Michael Gallagher grew up in Nebraska with a father who spent his spare time in the woodworking shop in their garage, often sending Gallagher and his older brother off to hammer nails into stumps to keep them occupied.
Being around it felt comfortable, but it wasnt something I really thought much about doing back then, said Gallagher, 30, a custom furniture designer and maker in Raleigh.
After high school, he and his now-wife, the ceramics artist Tanya Casteel, moved to Portland, Maine, where her parents lived.
He transferred to Maine College of Art, where Casteel was enrolled, and took a class in every discipline offered metalsmithing, sculpture, pottery.
Then I took my first woodworking and furniture class and immediately said, yep, this is what I want to do.
The environment felt both familiar and really different, Gallagher said.
It was at a much larger level and all the projects were artistic. I became enamored with the process. I love the forest and trees and working with the lumber. I love the expanse of what you could do with wood.
Some practical issues also drove his enthusiasm for furniture design.
While Tanya and I were in school, we moved apartments every year and our college furniture was just falling apart, Gallagher said. That sent me on a mission to make my own designs that looked better but also were well built. My aesthetic is toward clean, modern designs.
After Gallagher received a bachelors degree in 2007, he studied computer drafting at a community college and took a job at a small architectural firm specializing in product design. When the couple moved to Raleigh in 2009, lured by its warm months and business climate, he landed a job overseeing the wood studio at the Crafts Center at N.C. State University, where he stayed until 2012.
It was lucky timing, Gallagher said. I had a great introduction to the local craft scene and I loved having a great workshop again.
While Casteels ceramics business took off, Gallagher starting doing custom work on the side. Last year, he found his own space, purchasing a former general store in south Raleigh.
Having my own shop was a big step, said Gallagher, who will hold open-studio days July 12 and 13 to celebrate one year at the location. You have the chance to figure out your own voice and how you want to run your business.
Immediately, he was able to take bigger custom orders. One of the first was a bedroom set queen bed, dresser and nightstand for Neal and Diana Gettinger of Raleigh for their teenage daughter.
Neal Gettinger said theyd wanted her to have furniture she could take when she left home and that would be of heirloom quality, free of pressed board or veneer.
All we knew design-wise was we wanted something a little less linear, a little rustic and with personality, Gettinger said. Michael nailed it. He sketched it out pretty quickly and totally understood what we were going for. Hes got an amazing eye for wood. You may see this style of furniture, but youre never going to find the same wood like that again.
Gallagher used pecan rich with patterns and shadings in some areas from where the tree had forked, making the grain denser, and in other areas from spalting, where decay and bacteria left marks in the wood. The variations give each panel a distinct look for an overall artistic effect.
I think Michael was as excited to build the pieces as we were in seeing the outcome, Gettinger said.
Gallagher said most customers are pleased with his use of local lumber.
Theres really enough variation in domestic lumber that you can get some amazing pieces with just using wood from around here, said Gallagher, who most often uses walnut, hickory, pecan, maple and sycamore, which he often buys from one-person sawmills.
3 product lines
Moving forward, Gallagher and Casteel she handles sales and marketing and assists him with some sanding and finishing are growing the business by offering three product lines. All are contemporary, but Leif focuses on nature, FE26 incorporates metal, and Aeron is more Gallaghers personal style of simple designs and clean lines.
The custom work is always going to be there, but were trying to create a business format that is sustainable, said Gallagher, who also sells small items like cutting boards and jewelry boxes through an Etsy site.
Someday Gallagher would like to convert the small house behind his studio into a showroom, but for now hes more interested in growing the business slowly.
Tanya and I were talking about it the other day, saying how a lot of what we focus on and what draws us to the lifestyle we want to live through making handmade objects is quality of life. We dont want to get too big.