Can you have a chat with a piece of wood? Most of us – outside of HBO’s Game of Thrones anyway – would demur, but furniture maker Michael Gloor describes each of his custom-built pieces as the result of a conversation: “You have to listen to what the materials are trying to tell you,” he says.
Gloor, a North Kingstown resident whose spacious Exeter workshop and studio is housed in the historic Dorset Mill, was originally trained in pottery. He looks at a piece of wood in much the same way that a potter considers a lump of clay – full of wonderfully undefined possibility. “It’s like writing a novel: At a certain point, if you’re a good author, the characters will tell you what they are,” he says. “You can’t listen if you’re trying too hard to impose something on it.”
Thus do the rough chunks and slabs of rare hardwoods stacked in Gloor’s workshop – Tasmanian rose myrtle, African sapele, Chen Chen from Mexico – become dining room tables, chairs, cabinets and desks. Each piece is uniquely original, finely crafted and finished in Gloor’s signature style: clean lines typical of Shaker or Swedish design blends with Asian influences. The style shows through in the pagoda-like curves of his cabinet legs and the carved windows in chair backs and pedestals, reminiscent of Japanese shoji screens.
Self-taught as a furniture maker, Gloor revels in the reductive nature of shaping and assembling wood into something both beautiful and practical. His thrills come not from seeing his work on display in a gallery (or even being used in a customer’s home), but rather in the process of creation.
The result is furniture that is as much art as craft, although Gloor isn’t one to bask in his accomplishments. “I don’t see it as being precious,” says Gloor, although he adds with a laugh: “The people who say they love your work and then write you a check – that’s real praise.”
Some of those checks can be quite large: a dining room table that dominates the small Michael Gloor Design showroom has a $19,000 price tag, for example. Then again, the one-of-a-kind piece is crafted from a variety of rare woods – some of which can cost $1,800 for a single board – and represents at least 180 hours of Gloor’s time and craftsmanship. It’s the kind of work that’s treasured not just by interior designers looking for a signature piece for a room, but also collectors of applied art.
When he needs a break from a big project, Gloor spins up his lathe and transforms small chunks of wood into carved and polished bowls. He’s produced 50 of these “turnings” so far, and they represent something of a return to his roots in pottery, which he studied at the Kansas City Art Institute. They sell for $25-$500 each. Mixed in with more traditional designs and shapes are a series of bowls carved from oak galls and cherry root burls, more natural pieces that retain the unique growth patterns and flaws of the wood.
Despite his zen-like approach to his craft, Gloor remains restless, always looking for a new challenge. Next up: dusting off the neglected clay studio in his Secret Lake home so he can begin working on some “technically very difficult” objects that combine clay and wood. As usual, he’s not quite sure what the pieces will end up looking like, only that the materials will speak to him, perhaps in two distinct languages this time.