I don’t know a person who doesn’t love Judson Beaumont’s furniture when they see it. From tables and cabinets that melt and explode, to doghouses shaped like campers, the ideas are original, playful, joyful and and seemingly endless.
Long before I met him at a trade show, I was a huge fan. We were there to judge a student furniture show and hit it off instantly. Jud is compact and effervescent, like his furniture, and we had a blast appreciating young people’s work, and then bar-hopping and cracking wise that same night.
We never met again until last week, when I had the chance to drive up to his workshop in Vancouver, B.C., on assignment for Popular Woodworking magazine. I was looking forward to getting inside the Chocolate Factory.
Jud found his old industrial building almost 30 years ago, when he was a young art-school graduate with some furniture success already under his belt. He took a corner spot on the second floor, unboarded the windows, and went to work. Over the years other artisans followed his lead, and today the place is chockful of over 200 of them, cross-pollinating each others’ work and lives, trading skills and ideas. Jud recruited his current casting/molding expert from the floor below.
One thing I love about the building is how the owners and occupants have welcomed talented graffiti artists to decorate the exterior. Art is art.
Inside his two giant workrooms, I found a small army of young assistants, busy bringing Jud’s creations to life. No Oompa-Loompas, because they come and go over the years, but talented and committed to Jud’s vision.
Like most of my favorite furniture makers, Jud designs first, free from constraints, and then figures out how to build it. It’s not better then being schooled in traditional furniture making methods, just different.
So how he builds is not precious. Nail guns, plywood, and glue mostly, with the finished surfaces being where he spends his effort. He just does whatever makes sense, as long as the finished project is sturdy and impeccable looking in the end.
That means he can work quickly, focus on designing and finding clients, and rely on (somewhat) lesser skilled workers to do the heavy lifting.
I also found out that the seemly effortless designs are exactly the opposite. This is critical information for would-be designers, so listen up: It takes a hundred weird sketches and wacky experiments with the tablesaw and glue to come up with just a few workable ideas, and Jud has spent 30 years of Saturdays alone in his shop, just playing. Playing with a purpose.
The sketching is critical he said, and you’ll get better at it the more you do. But you need to see ideas in real 3-D too, so miniature and full-size models are just as important. Dozens of false starts and funky attempts line the walls and windowsills of his shop. Some miniatures are so cool that they end up being sold.
If you do all that, and do it for decades, experimenting and building endlessly, you might get to travel the world like Jud, having children in Hong Kong dress up like your furniture and dance for you.
For more about this real-life Willie Wonka, check future issues of Popular Woodworking magazine. The magazine tends to stick to traditional forms and methods, so I can’t wait to see what readers think. I can’t imagine them not appreciating Judson Beaumont.