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Artisanship

with wood from trees grown on his vermont farm, garrett hack
crafts the finely detailed pieces that have earned him a reputation
as one of new englands finest furniture makers.

ON A HIGHER PLANE

TEXT BY ROBERT KIENER | PORTRAIT BY WEBB CHAPPELL

f you want proof that Garrett Hack is one of New Englands finest furniture
makers, you might start by looking through his garbage. I did. | See that
wood shaving? asks Hack as I pick out a gossamer-thin, curlicued, seven-inch
long, butternut wood shaving from the trash can. Its beautiful, isnt it? | Before
I can answer, Hack is off and running, showing me how the shaving is a bit thick-

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Artisanship
PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL TRUSLOW

er in the middle than at the edges, how


its free from holes, how its a continuous, clean cut. All these characteristics,
says Hack, are evidence of his attention
to detail.
I rarely sand my furniture, I handplane everything, he explains as he
holds the shaving up to the light, like a
physician examining an x-ray. Sanding
can mar a woods surface. A hand plane
is more subtle; it cuts with more clarity.
Details. They are very important to
Hack, who plies his craft in a twentyfour-by-thirty-six-foot, two-story brick
and timber workshop he built adjacent
to his house in Thetford Center, Vermont. With a table of his in the permanent collection of the Bennington Museum, a client list that includes notables
such as former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, and two best-selling
books to his credit, Hack is one of the
best knownand most successful
furniture makers in the region.
Inspired by the artistry of traditional furniture, especially the elegant
eighteenth-century Federal style, Hack

Hacks work is traditionally


inspired, yet contemporary.
TOP LEFT: Demilune table
of cherry, birds-eye maple,
crotch birch, ebony and holly.
TOP RIGHT: Details of demilune table. BOTTOM: Cherry
serpentine chest.

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Artisanship

crafts delicate, graceful contemporary


interpretations.
His bow-front chests, serpentine
tables, writing desks, dining tables,
chairs and other pieces may take their
cue from yesterdays craftsmen, but
they are unmistakably the work of a
contemporary master.
Garrett takes traditional designs and
makes them his own, explains Stowe
homeowner Mary Connacher, who has
eight of Hacks creations. When you
buy a piece of furniture from Garrett
youre really buying a work of art.
Hacks work is characterized by his
interest in design as much as detail. He
puts as much thought and work into his
joinery as he does his trademark inlay
and decorative details.
A civil engineering and architecture
graduate of Princeton, Hack considers
design his biggest challenge. I want to

Details and design hold equal


importance to Hack. TOP:
Detail of table of curly birch
and other woods. BOTTOM:
The drawers are made of
bleached Cuban mahogany.

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Artisanship

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Baud Builders

build furniture that works well, like a


chair that is comfortable, while also
being elegant and playful, the furniture
maker says.
Hack describes his work as having
three levels of design. At the first
level, you might see a piece of mine
from across the room and think, That
form and color is appealing. I dont
want my work to overpower other furniture in the room. As you get closer
you start to see the details, the beveled
edges or the inlay. Finally, at the third
level you may feel a subtly curved surface or pull out one of my drawers and
see that the bottom has a nice bevel to
it. Thats engineering.
When Hack discovered that one of
his clients was losing her eyesight, he
decided to add a detail to the elegant
inlaid table she had ordered. Using one
of his scores of hand planes (he wrote
the definitive guide about the tools,
The Handplane Book), he planed barely
perceptible undulations into the top of
the table.
Its like gentle waves on a sea, says
Hack with a wide grin. She loves it.
She walks by and puts her hand on it
and feels it even if she cant see it.
Hack often builds surprises into his
pieces. One day he brought me a side-

Elegant, yes, but comfortable, too. A steam-bent whiteash chair features a Danish
cord seat.

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Country Carpenters

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Artisanship

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Timberpeg

board he had just finished and he had


this huge smile on his face, remembers
Connacher. He had built in five hidden
drawers and he challenged me to find
them. In the inlay of John Sununus
demilune table are a series of tiny dots
and dashes that spell out H-A-C-K.
After some thirty years as a furniture
maker, the fifty-three-year-old Hack is
in the enviable position of having his
customers come to him. His reputation
ensures that theres a waiting list for the
next Garret Hack, which can cost
buyers anywhere from $5,000 to
$15,000, depending on the projects size

want to build furniture that works well,


like a chair that is
comfortable while
also being elegant and
playful.

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Pan Zhai

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and complexity. He prefers to visit a


buyer to see where the commissioned
piece will live and how it can blend
into its surroundings. The color, light,
details and style of other furnishings are
important to me, says Hack. I dont
want my work to clash or stand out too
prominently.
After consulting with a client he
sends detailed drawings. After any
changes are discussed, he sends revised
drawings and, often, a mockup of a
section of the commissioned piece. A
mockup he is about to send to a client
for a dining table he is making involves
a foot-long piece of mahogany that includes a sample of the tables two maple
and satinwood inlays, its beveled edge
and an under bevel. Drawings are fine,
but theres no substitute for holding the
actual mockup in your hand, he explains. Its also a great way to educate
the client about how much work is
going into their piece.
Hack loves a challenge. I like to reinvent the wheel with each new project,
he says. He looks at each new design as
a test and thinks, What do I need to
tweak, instead of what do I need to
copy? How can I make this better? How
can I play with this?
While Hacks legions of admirers
know him as a skilled furniture maker,

Artisanship

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George Penniman

Just twenty-three inches high,


the shrine cabinet is made of
birds-eye maple, beech, pear,
mahogany, ebony and holly.

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Adaptations

writer and teacher (a British fan called


recently and asked if he could visit his
workshop, exclaiming Youre a bloody
legend!), not everyone knows he is
also a self-described one-horse farmer.
Indeed, he bridles up Jazz, his two-yearold Belgian, and off we go on a roughand-tumble cart ride through his twentyfour-acre woodlot.
Bumping along the winding trails,
Hack points out the butternut, maple,
birch, oak and other trees that he
cuts, dries and fashions into some of
the regions most elegant furniture.
There are more than thirty varieties
of furniture-quality woods here, he
says. And every board I get out of these
woods is unique.
As Jazz struggles to pull the sturdy
wooden cart up a steep path, I look at
all the wood around me and marvel that
some of it may end up as the sturdy
shelves, the graceful legs, or the elegant inlay on a finely crafted piece of
furniture in someones home. All it will
take is the skilled craftsmanship, and
attention to detail, of furniture master
Garrett Hack. NEH
EDITORS NOTE To reach Garrett Hack, call
(802) 785-4329 or e-mail him at abundance.farm@
valley.net.

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