Deep Woodsman

Los Angeles furniture designer Sam Moyer

In my line of work, I meet a lot of people who, for wont of a more graceful term, make stuff.  Much of it is beautiful, or clever, or otherwise has editorial appeal; sometimes, though, it is extraordinary, and I keep the maker in my mind’s tiny Rolodex of people on whom to keep an eye.  Such is the case with Samuel Moyer, a Los Angeles-based furniture designer, whom I first wrote about four years ago.  In the intervening years we’ve become friends, e-mailing and meeting up when one of us is in the other’s city.  His pieces, often made from reclaimed wood, using joinery rather than screws or glue for most projects, have a simplicity and strength rarely found in more commercial work.  Sam is also something of a wood poet.  He once said to me, “I’m blessed and cursed, perhaps, to have a very intimate connection with everything I make.”
 
Sam and I recently met for breakfast at Balthazar in Soho, to talk about a project -- a custom dining table for a private client -- that had brought him East for a couple of weeks.  One of the first things I noticed that morning was how much dirt he had under his fingernails.  He had, of course, just spent two weeks planing, carving, sanding, and staining a table.  I’m not being judgmental here, simply noting the contrast that is Sam, a particularly poised and elegant guy who also loves to go at a fallen redwood tree with a giant saw and make furniture out of it.
 
Moyer grew up in the Bucks County area, studied woodworking in high school, then architecture at Brown.  After graduation, he spent some time with Skip Yates (whom I recently profiled in Hand/Eye) taking apart and re-assembling old barns.  Some of the reclaimed wood he uses comes from that era, and he’ll hold on to a particularly good piece for years until he turns it into furnitures.  He moved to LA in 2000 to be with his (then) girlfriend, a medical student at USC, living with her, her brother, and a dog named Milo.  A motorcycle and a stint waiting tables at Chateau Marmont ensued.  “I drove the majority of my belongings out here in a 1967 chevy 3-speed column shift pickup with no power steering or power brakes.  My traveling companion was my mother, Eva Lee.  It was the best road trip I've ever had.”
 
Getting to hang with mom is one of the reasons he’s glad to have a project back home.  Indeed, Sam collaborated with many of his family and friends on the table, which makes one of his favorite things he’s made.  It joins two successive slices of German black walnut, book-matched.  “I used a hard maple perpendicular grain spline, which I exposed, to join the two pieces. I also used a handful of custom-sized butterfly keys to reinforce checks in the wood, as well as a kind of staple joint, a sort of a dutchman, as some woodworkers call it.  But they wind up kind of being and looking like staples on a scar.  I've never really seen a joint like that before.”
 
Fabrication began at the New Jersey Barn Company in Ringoes, New Jersey, where he got to work with a few former colleagues.  His stepdad also helped with sanding and supply transport.  His uncle welded the flat bar steel base, which was made at his friend Gary’s family farm.  His brother Lloyd also helped with the base.  “My mom made me these delicious roast beef sandwiches in my lunchbox.  Every day.”  She also helped finish the base.  
 
The whole project had to be moved to her house because finishing it required a more consistent temperature, above 50 degrees, than could be had at the Barn Company.  (This also involved tarps and space heaters).  When the table was finished, his brother drove him and the table in a van borrowed from his oldest friend in a snowstorm from Pennsylvania to Tribeca, then helped him carry the 150 pound-plus thing to a third floor walk-up.  “That guy is awesome.  What a project.  It truly makes me misty just thinking about it.”
 
I asked Sam why he does what he does.  What follows is part of an artist statement he’s been working on, sent to me in an e-mail:  “If art is the job of cracking open pieces of the world to look inside, look.  Place your eye at the keyhole, be quiet, wait for a glimpse of the first day.  Samuel Moyer is trying to see; framing the universe; balancing artifacts; reconciling with gravity.  His objects stand, if they stand, at the confluence of the natural and the made worlds and ask where people exist, coexist within those worlds.” 
 
Back in LA, Sam works in a large studio downtown, bordering Skid Row, where he’s formed a sort of collective, “a small, tightly-knit band of artists and artisans, committed to making one-of-a-kind furniture, objects, and sculptures by hand from sustainable materials of heirloom quality.”   They rent out space, by the way, so if you’d like to peer through the looking-glass, visit www.533studios.com.
 

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