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"I said 'Claro Walnut' and his eyes lit up," Taylor Donsker tells me, remembering his first encounter with a wood supplier just fifteen minutes from the studio where he makes live-edge wood furniture in Los Angeles.
California's Claro Walnut isn't a soft-spoken wood (Taylor described it as having a "rainbow of color" before finishing), which is why he was delighted to find a supplier so conveniently local who shared his appreciation for it. While he sometimes uses simpler woods for his eponymous furniture line, Taylor tends towards materials with character, finding ways to celebrate their imperfections through highly finessed design.
For Taylor, selecting a slab of wood isn't just the first step towards making a table—it's the step that guides the rest of the design. "If you work with lumber, basically the lumber is your canvas, and that canvas can be made into whatever shape and size. When you work with a live-edge slab, you’re really going around choosing your canvas," he explains. "To me the most difficult part is finding the right piece."
But with time and the growth of his company, suppliers have sought Taylor out—rather than just the other way around. After learning the size and shape of table a client is looking for, he goes shopping for the perfect slab, opting for a piece that's a little larger than the finished dimensions will be. That way, he can pick and choose "the most beautiful parts" and cut away the rest.
What's beautiful to Taylor, of course, is not (not surprisingly) predictable: "I like to work with slabs with noticeable imperfections," he explains, for one because the sight of those imperfections is what tells a consumer they're looking at something made from solid wood, rather than veneer.
That, and because he sees imperfections as inspiring.
"It's also the jumping off point: How do we celebrate these imperfections—by joinery? By being OCD and manicuring each crack?" If there's termite damage, he might cast bronze into the groove to celebrate and finish it. Or bind it with a "corset," his signature version of a butterfly joint that spans an open wound in the wood like a little bronze bridge.
And while he admits that the mainstream finds simpler materials and designs more palatable, it doesn't hold him back. "Black walnut or American walnut is typical; Claro Walnut is special. Some people don’t like the variation—they’re used to a wood without as much variation—but I help them see what I see."
Tell me: What kind of wood do you love to use in the home? (I love smooth, blonde maple—and knobby pink cedar!)