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Custom wood furniture and accents add an artistic element to every room of the home

Nate Lenz was splitting firewood when he struck gold. 

It turns out the log he was about to set a match to was spalted maple, an exciting discovery for a woodworker like Lenz. Spalting, the result of a fungus that has attacked a dead or dying tree, creates unique color patterns with dark streaks running through the wood almost like marble.

“It feels like you found a little treasure when you come across something like this,” Lenz says, spinning a piece of the wood in his hands. 

Spoiler alert: he didn’t burn it.

Lenz, who owns the woodworking, fabrication and design firm Kinsman & Co. in Hortonville, says a discovery like this is exciting for two reasons. For one, spalting adds a distinctive character to wood that is just plain fun to work with. Two, it gives him the opportunity to redeem something that was about to be discarded. 

“This was a split log ready to go in the fire and that is the heart blood of what our company is – taking the things that everyone would call worthless and making it into something beautiful,” Lenz says. 

In the Fox Cities, craftspeople like Lenz are utilizing pieces of every day art in their work, elevating their clients’ homes room by room with custom-made furniture and accents. 

Kitchen Accents

Blaine Henkel, owner of Henkel’s Woodworking in Menasha, has more than 30 years of experience in custom cabinetry, furniture making and repair, and interior woodworking. Much of Henkel’s business comes from designing and installing high-end kitchen cabinetry, but he also makes china cabinets, tables and shelves. 

For one client, he is currently making a hickory kitchen island with a live edge top, meaning the natural raw edge of the wood is left intact for a one-of-a-kind piece. The island will have a 10-inch overhang to allow for bar-style seating.

“In the kitchen, islands have become a piece of furniture,” Henkel says. “Customers want them to be super unique, because people congregate around the kitchen.” 

Mixing color, texture and pattern creates visual interest and islands are a great way to incorporate all of the above. Henkel says the days of matching woodwork in kitchens are over.

“A lot of times the cabinetry is painted and the island is stained in a totally different color wood,” Henkel says. “The island top might be granite which could be totally different from the rest of the countertops. People are separating pieces, but they all pull together.” 

Elsewhere in the kitchen, range hoods have become a showpiece. Wood range hoods in contrasting, yet complementing tones and grains are bringing artistry to the room. Lenz says he makes a fair amount of custom range hoods, opting for new over reclaimed wood.

“We primarily use hard maple. It has a tendency to have really unique figuring going on,” he says. “We love as much character as possible. Poplar is a wood most cabinet guys would paint, but it has purple and green tones while still having a really simple grain pattern, so it has character and added flair.”

Living Room Show-Stoppers 

Homeowners choose to invest in custom furniture for a variety of reasons. Some appreciate the  craftsmanship. Others want heirloom-quality pieces that can be handed down generations. And some have a specific vision that they can’t find in existence on the store shelves. 

Logan Gruber, owner of Gruber Furniture and Cabinetry in Appleton, works with a range of clients, from architects who present exact furniture designs for him to execute to homeowners who give him complete creative control. 

Modern style furniture, which features natural materials, clean lines and neutral colors, is currently Gruber’s speciality. “I like the modern look which is very popular lately,” he says. “It seems like the last five years some of the trends from the coasts are shifting toward the Midwest.”

Furniture often presents some of the most creative opportunities, Gruber says, especially with wood selection. For example, he used a high-contrast piece of zebrawood for a modern credenza displayed in his showroom. 

“To me, there’s an art to the furniture end of it,” Gruber says. “For furniture and smaller pieces, you can find one really unusual wood board and make that the focal point. You get into fun woods with grain matching, different contrasts and the care with each piece as you are realigning it.”

Bathroom Beauties 

Custom furniture has made its way into the bathroom with furniture-style vanities. These pieces function as a sink, but are styled with furniture details such as carved legs, hardware and molding. Many of the custom vanities made by Kinsman & Co. feature a vessel sink that sits on top of the vanity and have a rustic, weathered wood aesthetic. 

Due to space constraints of many bathrooms, these vanities are custom-made to fit the space exactly, as well as the vision of the client.  

“Our favorite jobs are when the owners are coming to us directly. For them, it’s something they’ve dreamt of having and have been pinning pictures on Pinterest for years and finally decided to do it,” Lenz says. “It’s really fun at the end for them to tangibly see it in their space.”

Wood accent or feature walls bring warmth and character to a bathroom, whether behind the toilet or vanity mirror. Feature walls add instant color and texture and are often affordable, depending on the materials used. 

Lenz, who has created feature walls using everything from old pallets to fences and garage siding, suggests prioritizing your projects and incorporating them one by one to avoid accent overload.  

“Nothing is an accent or special if it’s constant,” he says. “Start with a piece at a time and add to it. Live with each one for a little while and see where it feels like something is missing. Doing it that way is a safer route to finding your inviting space.”

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