Three years into his career, Elijah Leed decided it was time to choose.
“I realized I needed to do what my professors in college were telling me all along,” the 28-year-old Durham resident said. “I’d had enough exploration – I was ready to focus in on something. I knew that making furniture was my greatest passion.”
Along the way, Leed had worked in glass blowing and ceramics, expanding his base of knowledge in materials, technique and honing in on his signature contemporary style. After graduating from Centre College in Danville, Ky., in 2008 with a degree in studio art, Leed had joined his eventual wife in Durham, where she was a graduate student at Duke University. For several years, he blew glass and taught workshops at Sally Resnik Rockriver’s studio in Chapel Hill.
He started making furniture four years ago, and quite organically. Leed had learned basic woodworking and home-building skills from his father, who maintains a substantial home workshop near Lewisburg, W.Va., where Leed grew up.
In 2009, when Leed wanted a hallway console for his Durham home, he sketched a 4-foot-long table with a walnut top and metal legs. Not having any metalworking experience, he took his design to Liberty Arts, the sculpture foundry in Durham, hoping someone could make it for him.
“After learning about my background, Jackie MacLeod, one of the welders I was talking to, said, ‘You sound competent, why don’t you come in and do it yourself? I’ll have to show you how, but I think you should give it a shot.’ ”
Leed accepted MacLeod’s offer and learned the basics of welding.
“It was amazing,” he said. “It’s always been interesting to me to learn new techniques, and it really opened up a huge amount of possibilities. That’s what really started me on this path.”
Leed continued to work on glass and ceramics, but slowly transitioned to furniture, and set up shop at Liberty Arts in 2011. Since then he’s been busy designing and making furniture, most of it commissioned through individual homeowners or interior designers and architects.
Pieces have ranged from tables and shelving to desks and chairs, and he’s also built tables and counters for popular Durham spots Cocoa Cinnamon cafe and Pompieri Pizza. Last summer he created seven pieces for a loft in downtown Durham – a dining table, 10-foot-long TV cabinet, desks, coffee table and shelving.
Nicole Baxter, the interior designer on the loft project, praised Leed’s craft and artistry.
“He’s got a very good modern aesthetic,” she said. “I can come up with an overall concept and I can tell Elijah what I’m looking for and just let him do what he wants. He knows his craft and his materials, and he knows how to source things. For the loft he made a TV console, custom shelves, and a farmhouse dining table using wood from an old train station in Durham. My clients are ridiculously happy with his work.”
Leed’s projects grow more complex by the year. Lately, he’s added cantilever designs to a series of tables and most recently, has started to design a large cantilever dining room table topped with a single walnut slab.
“I’m still working through the physics to counterbalance and weigh it down,” he said.
Leed has regional sources for wood, but also harvests much of himself it from his parents’ 45 acres in West Virginia, especially walnut, oak and ash.
Last year Leed started a product line of distinctive pieces to be featured along with commissions and plans to continually add new lines.
So far he has debuted “Not-Your-Mothers-Jewelry-Box,” an oak drawer set in a thin powder-coated steel case, and “Dalton,” a sleek task chair available in ash with a white powder coat or walnut with a matte black powder coat or a custom color.
“I’ve always been very interested in chairs,” he said. “They’re challenging to design and make because they’re so intimate to a person and have to fit well.”
Leed exhibited his new work last year at the wholesale International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, hoping to connect with architects, interior designers and trade publications.
“I put my foot in the door,” he said. “It went fairly well. I knew it was going to be mostly a learning experience.”
For that show, he had to make many new pieces, and some ended up at his home.
“My wife jokes that our house is a furniture warehouse,” he said. “Sometimes a coffee table will be there, but if I sell it or show it somewhere, we no longer have a coffee table.”
One item staying put is the bed he built for them last year.
“I promised her a bed frame and headboard for her one-year anniversary gift. I was only a couple years behind schedule.”
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