From their workshop on a quiet residential street in Whitman, Keith Cornell and his business partner, Paul Smith, believe they can make just about anything out of wood.
Keith Cornell can take a pile of rough lumber and make you a chair so beautiful it would pain you to sit on it.
From their workshop on a quiet residential street in Whitman, Cornell and his business partner, Paul Smith, believe they can make just about anything out of wood.
Chairs, tables and armoires, Newport style or Boston, 17th century or art deco – it’s all within their skill set.
Many of their techniques date back to the 17th century. They use dovetails and mortise-and-tenon joinery to hold pieces of wood together.
The walls at Cornell & Smith Fine Furniture are covered with jigs, forms they use to repeat successful building techniques. Craftsmen have been using jigs for centuries.
The company has no showroom because everything is custom designed.
Cornell, the chief designer, meets with clients at their homes or in art museums, and he reviews his library of reference books for ideas.
He sketches an envisioned piece by hand or on his computer, engineering it to withstand the wear and tear of use.
Even selecting the wood takes time. A rough piece of lumber is milled once to produce flat, straight edges. Then, after being set aside for a day to allow the natural tensions in the wood to dissipate, it is milled again.
Each cut, joint and artistic detail is planned ahead of time.
“It’s like flying to the moon or anything else,” Cornell said. “You break it down into simple steps, but when you look at it all together, it looks complex.”
Cornell started his career in woodworking as a young boy.
“I made a spice rack for my mom when I was in the first grade,” he said. “She still has it. It says ‘Spices,’ but spelled wrong, in glitter.”
After attending Rutgers University, Cornell enrolled at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, then studied 17th-century furniture making at Plimoth Plantation.
Cornell and Smith also do custom kitchen cabinetry.
“We’re not against doing the modern stuff, but when we do things, we do it with the best materials and joinery that we can,” Cornell said.