Ingrained Techniques: Old World Woodworking in Pawtucket

Two craftsmen use age-old woodworking methods in their dynamic furniture designs

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Surrounded by curled wood shavings and commissioned designs sketched out on paper, the two-man duo behind Giossi and Kuhn Design can be found hard at work in their Pawtucket studio where leaned up against the wall, beams of wood in all hues await their transformation into dining tables, cabinets, and all variety of furniture meant to stand the test of time. The vibe is collaborative. Shop dog Cooper lounges while the creative wheels turn as Matt Giossi and Ron Kuhn churn out precise joints and pieces using Old World hand tool methods. Their business came together after meeting during an apprenticeship with local master Hank Gilpin and a shared passion for the process – an assemblage of tricks, techniques, and materials that goes into furniture making.

“I spent my formative years in historic Pawtuxet Village, surrounded by Colonial architecture and an abundance of antique furniture and early American art,” says Giossi, whose inspiration for woodworking starts with both personal and regional history. “I was always fascinated with how those homes were built – constructed by hand using domestic hardwoods that early settlers had harvested from the surrounding forest.”

With a stepmother who taught at RISD and a father who works in construction, Kuhn brings a background immersed in both art and building to the craft: “Furniture is really the perfect blend of both of these interests – there are seemingly endless ways to be creative, but the utilitarian qualities of furniture provide a challenging set of limitations within the creative process.”

For both, the satisfaction is in cracking the code that each new design challenge presents. “Even a simpler piece requires a long list of decisions to make, problems to solve, and creative solutions to ponder,” says Kuhn of their process. “It’s a puzzle of chronological steps all the way through, and very often, if one decision changes, the rest of the puzzle changes with it. Being engaged in this process is the most cathartic way to spend our time working.”

Giossi and Kuhn build with a method called mortise and tenon joinery, known for its durability and elegance. Strong joints are fit into place and glued grain-to-grain to create a lasting bond even as the wood naturally expands and retracts. Part of the finished product’s visual interest comes from smooth details that can’t be replicated by a machine, and the structural elements the pair likes to highlight in their designs.

Kuhn describes dream projects as one-offs that are technical and challenging, like a dining table their former employer Gilpin drafted that was tiled with 49 different species of wood. Custom commissions are welcomed, whether it’s a table that will be a fixture in someone’s home or a larger scale kitchen build. No matter the project, Giossi describes an approach that’s layered: “It’s the ancient details that a craftsmen, potentially hundreds of years ago, thought out and executed for practicality and beauty – the blend between creating something strong, that will outlast you, as well as something beautiful that our families have the pleasure of living beside and interacting with. I just find that so incredible.” 

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