Feature Article: Austin Interiors
Four who heeded the call and elevated the craft
by Charlotte Spratt
Photography by Mia Baxter & Leah Muse
Kelly DeWitt Norman & Travis Norman
Up on a hill behind the home of married couple and collaborators, Kelly DeWitt Norman and Travis Norman, is a sprawling 1,500-square-foot workshop with a cozy porch that doubles as a loading dock. From the dreamy, window-lined workshop, the couple works on wood and steel fabrication projects. The couple came together in work (and in love) when they met through music—they both played in bands for years. Travis worked as a carpenter and welder in other people’s shops, but was always curious about furniture design. Kelly started with small projects that got her used to tools and techniques, and then dove headfirst into starting a furniture line, KKDW, in 2012. In May of 2016, the couple started working together and have since collaborated on projects like the build out of Kettle & Brine. For the kitchen supply retailer they designed a brass counter and crafted shelves, cabinets and a live-edge dining table. Designing and building commercial spaces, like shops and storefronts, is one of their favorite joint pursuits. And, of course, designing and building furniture sold on KKDW.
Lately they have been focused on creating pieces that feel equally as beautiful in a well-designed home as a functioning studio or workspace. Crafting furniture pieces with duality is a sweet spot—like a large table with storage running along the length that can be a dining spot or a workshop surface. Each piece they create has a modern feel, but because of the material choices and joinery techniques, each one also seems grounded in tradition. Of all the work they have done together, it’s hard to pick a favorite. “We’ve been very fortunate to build a lot of amazing pieces, especially over the last year, but I think for us, the next piece is always the favorite piece.” Kelly reflected.
Adrian San Miguel
Ace San Miguel Design & ToolMarks Collective
As a child growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas, Adrian San Miguel would watch his father, the late Jody San Miguel (who passed away at the end of last year), at work in their garage. He would take found objects and repurpose them into beautiful pieces, like scraps from an old fence that became a bed and desk for his son’s bedroom. Decades later, Adrian embraced his father’s love of bringing old pieces back to life. This shared passion led to him opening La Luz, a vintage furniture store on South First Street . Adrian started making furniture on the side, returning to his artistic roots that took hold as a student at Texas State. There he studied sculpture and threw pots, experimenting in different mediums, like metal and fiber, before getting into furniture making. Some of those first pieces were sold in Protoype Vintage on South Congress that his sister, Audrie San Miguel, runs with Adrian’s wife, Sarah Evans.
Now, he is making pieces for his furniture line Ace San Miguel Design in South Austin at a shared maker space called ToolMarks Collective. “My style is tough Texican meets mid-century modern. My furniture is inspired by mid-century artists and designers, but it is built with unexpected materials and innovative techniques. I love to incorporate hand-sculpted elements and other personal touches to make it my own.” Recent projects include a dining set made out of three substantial walnut slabs that were indigenous to Texas.
Each of Adrian’s designs starts with a sketch and conversation with his client about what they want to accomplish in the space. Then, he presents a few options for a collaborative dialogue about the final design. He is currently hard at work on the booths and tables for his long-time friend Phillip Speer’s new French restaurant, Bonhomie.
Next month, Adrian and his wife will welcome their first child, a son, into the world, and he is already looking forward to the creative projects he will do with him in the garage one day. “What I look forward to most is sharing the knowledge, work ethic and love that my dad shared with me,” he says with a grin. “It’s going to be so much fun.”
Leslie Webb Design
One day while working as a nanny in Maine, Leslie Webb was flipping through a Thomas Moser furniture catalog. She commented, off-handedly, to the family’s father, something along the lines of wouldn’t it be great to be able to make furniture that was utilitarian and really beautiful? The man replied he didn’t know how to build furniture, but he did have basic woodworking skills. If she was interested, he would teach her what he knew. She started out by learning to build shipping crates for him (he was an artist who worked on a large scale). Webb recalled being smitten at first trim, “The very first time I cut a 2×4 on his chop saw, I knew I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
A graduate of a small liberal arts university in Maine, Bowdoin College, Webb needed additional skills to get there. She enrolled in a nine-month comprehensive course at the renowned Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine. She then moved to California to further hone her skills at the Crafts and Design Program at Sheridan College. Then, tools in hand, she decamped East and started her own business in Philadelphia, winning numerous awards.
Back in Texas since 2009, Leslie works in a converted two-car garage in Georgetown, Texas on her line of contemporary furniture. She is influenced by Scandinavian and Japanese design, mid-century modern, and the ideals of the arts and craft movement. “I often use simple shapes as a basis for a more complex form,” she says. Each design starts with a sketch and once she has a firm idea of the design, she makes a ¼-scale drawing, then she makes a ¼-scale model. The next step is full-scale technical drawings (by hand). And sometimes, she even makes full-scale mock ups. “To say that I chose furniture making as a career is not quite accurate. It chose me.” And we’re glad it did.
Read more from the Interiors Issue | January 2017