“Phil Gautreau is an award-winning maker based out of Brooklyn, NY. He is known best for his sustainable hand-turned wooden vessels and cutting boards, which serve both as functional and bespoke decorative pieces for the home and kitchen.”
J– Did you grow up in Brooklyn?
P– “No I was brought up in Rhode Island, lived in Portland, Maine, for undergraduate work, then moved to NYC for graduate school at Columbia University’s School of Public Health. I’ve always lived in Manhattan, and my studio is in Brooklyn. Thankfully the F train connects my two worlds!”
J– How did you become interested in woodworking and when did you decide to do this
P– Growing up in New England, woodworking became a hobby that I picked up from my dad. He’s an original do-it-yourselfer still living in the house designed and built by my grandfather. My dad and I worked on projects in our workshop and it was through his example I learned a simple concept: “build and repair” rather than “discard and replace.” That’s also where I discovered the complexities and tactile beauty of wood, and where I developed my artistic instinct to make decorative and functional wood pieces. About 10 years ago in the throes of a successful career in healthcare management, I started taking woodworking classes. It was infectious. I really loved the freedom of design and creating something with my hands!
J– What’s your favorite part about the entire woodworking process?
P– “Repurposing” wood whenever possible to design and make my wood serving boards and the hand-turned wood vessels is one of the most gratifying parts of my work. Amazing things happen when imagination creates an opportunity to see new life in materials that no longer serve the original purpose for which they were designed and built. And I guess if I can tag a few more favorite parts to your question. I love the zen of woodturning itself, those uninterrupted hours on the lathe, listening to my favorite music on my headphones, gradually peeling back each wood layer to reveal a new form. And finally, of course, having my clients fall in love with my work and buy the pieces. Embracing that story is part of what makes them appreciate it more.
J-You speak about the complexities of wood, and how having unique pieces make the work more challenging but worth it. What is one of the challenges you come across most often?
P-Well, wood is wood right? And what I mean by that is that it is organic, it’s got imperfections, and sometimes it’s just too bland and has too little character. Sometimes the wood is unstable from years of use or areas of weakness in the wood, thereby making it unsuitable for use. There’s plenty of wood that I don’t use, but there is a lot that I can use if it’s got some quirkiness to it. What I do with those imperfections is the challenge. My goal is always to incorporate as much as the unique figuring, the spalt lines, the tight swirling burl patterns, the rich transitions of color tones in a single piece of wood into my final design.
J– What stands out most about your work?
P– All of my designs, whether hand-turned wood vases or handcrafted wood serving boards, incorporate wood imperfections, rather than eliminating them. These may include burl growths, spalt lines or other visually interesting colors and patterns embedded in the wood. The result is always something contemporary, minimalist, and organic. My signature collection of maple burl vessels and platters, and also small decorative vases made from discarded tropical wood, are also very popular. I think my serving boards stand out because of their unique color combinations of wood and hand-sanded Scandinavian modern-inspired edges. It’s labor-intensive work, which is the reason why they are only made in small batches. My goal: make pieces I’d want in my own home. Period.
J– How does the work process evolve for you? Do you start with a design or do you become inspired to create as you go?
P– I always imagine a design before starting on each new piece, but am open to tweaking as needed to embrace the potential beauty in each particular piece of wood.
J– All of your work is unique, one-of-a-kind, does that make the production more challenging?
P– It definitely makes production more challenging, but that’s the point! I don’t want to be going production work. That is how I define craftsmanship. “Made by hand” requires artistic interpretation.
J– What are the home décor must-haves right now?
P– HA! What a great opportunity for a product pitch! At the very least every home should have two wood boards. One primarily for cutting and one for serving. They should be functional and aesthetically interesting and can serve as part of the kitchen décor, leaning against a backsplash, hanging from a wall, etc. The other must-have of course is vessels. Look at images in every home/shelter magazine. Each room is carefully staged with furniture, lighting, and accessories. What you may not notice is how often vessels are placed as decorative accents throughout the home, and wood serving boards and bowls as functional pieces in the kitchen and dining rooms. It’s done with intention to incorporate pieces that compliment the vibe of the room and create a lifestyle statement. Vessels can be made of glass, ceramic, wood, woven fabric, metal, stone, just about any material.”
J– What are you working on right now?
P– I’ve started sending handwritten notes to many clients. With the unknown state of the world, these are times for reflection and expressing gratitude, in whatever form that means to you.
Phil Gautreau, the master craftsman and wood maker gives a glimpse in to his world of finding inspiration at every turn, and reminds us that every thing has purpose, even if you haven’t discovered it yet. Shinbone Alley’s mission is to find artisans and makers around the world who are committed to sustainability and who create beautiful and functional products for our shoppers. We have a line of exotic cutting boards made from ethically sourced materials and hand shaped by our favorite craftsmen, including Phil Gautreau. We also invite you to browse our collection of designer vases and vessels, some of which are handmade vessels from Gautreau and others that incorporate the same woodworking techniques that Phil Gautreau uses.