State of Craft: A Visit to Dorset Custom Furniture

This spring Dan Mosheim celebrated thirty-five years in the studio furniture business. At such a benchmark, his portfolio is extensive, award-winning and happily installed in public and private spaces across the country.

Dan’s blog A Woodworkers Photo Journal chronicles the work at Dorset Custom Furniture. And as a reader of the blog could expect, there was lots to see, learn and take in when we visited last month.

Since Dan’s furniture catalog is deep in volume and stylistically diverse, it was really difficult to choose a finished piece or two to feature here. We settled on ‘Bridges,’ for its aesthetic and design story. The bench was Dorset Custom Furniture’s contribution to the Bennington Museum exhibition ‘State of Craft’ a few years back.

The bench design was partly inspired by Dan’s grandfather, Irvin Seeders, a bridge riveter for Bethlehem Steel for 52 years.  And the design and fabrication was a collaborative effort between Dan (b. 1947)  and his two sons, Sam and Will. “Sam did the steel work and green paint, Will did the burning and finishing, and I roughed out the recycled oak wood, worked on assembly and the conceptual stuff.” Typical Dorset Custom Furniture, dividing the jobs up according to specialty, resulting in a piece that’s totally unique, with a measurable WOW factor. Since then, a really cool line of Bethlehem Steel studio pieces has emerged.
The DCF Family is five. Or six. Five guys making furniture. And one guy making instruments. Trevor’s been with Dan since 2006 and he’s the resident CNC master. Check out his work. Chris is the newest to join the group, a very competent woodworker (recent project here) who’s worked on his own, and also with Guild Member Bill Laberge who has a shop down the street.

And Jim Parsons (a.k.a Mr Lucky) we didn’t get to meet. Dan says he’s the Vice President of ‘lightness and humor’ in the shop. A talented woodworker and glass blower, the two have worked together on an off for many years. Jim rounds out the DCF crew.
 There were a few projects underway when we visited, and some ready to ship. Will was working out a neck for a five string open back banjo. “It’s all Vermont native wood – cherry and hardhack — and themed inlays,” he told us. A few years ago, Will had been working in the furniture shop and making instruments on the side. As an accomplished player (see Gold Town) it was a natural fit and after a blush of first orders, he shifted his title to full-time luthier.

Of course there are similarities between furniture and instrument making. The design process, the client relationship, the way past projects inform new experiences… all shared elements with the addition of one, the performance requirement.

“Right. It has to make music.” Will laughed. But then he leaned in, and said earnestly, “I put my heart and soul into my instruments, touching, making every piece. I consider where it’s going, how the person will use it. And I think people like knowing that some presence of the maker is there.” Will explained that he’ll even tackle the metal hardware eventually. “I’ll find time to work out that process with my brother, next door, and that will really set my work apart.” We liked his approach but had to let him know we think he’s already there… You can see for yourself at Seeders Instruments.
And the ‘next door’ Will referred to? That’s his brother’s metal shop… Sam Mosheim Metalwork.
“I taught myself welding,” Sam told us. “I had a couple of friends who studied sculptural metal work and I’ve learned from them. You get to know the basics,” he says. “And then it’s just about practice. And more practice and more practice.” Sam’s been working metal full time for about five years. Each project is basically a custom job and he takes those, most of the time, from start to finish; design to installation.

With a really solid and diverse catalog of work, clients and contractors are inspired to request a drawing with their own customization. “Part of the process is figuring it out. And each time you learn from it and become better and better.” No doubt, as you’re out tooling around Southern Vermont, you’ll start to spot Sam’s work here and there… railings, porches, balconies, sign posts, you name it. Just beautiful stuff. And his contribution to the DCF catalog has been pretty profound, and popular. The guys are cranking out fantastic slab tables with steel bases that have heft, shimmer and lightness all at once.
And when Sam’s not working in the shop, he’s gone fishing. That’s guaranteed.
Before we headed out, we reconnected with Dan, almost embarrassed to ask if he would choose a favorite project. Easy going in response, he offered up a library. A job from scratch. “We cut the wood from the clients land in Glastonbury, built the library in Arlington, assembled and finished it in Cambridge. Then we took it apart, put in on a truck and drove it down to New York, where we suspended it like a half inch inside an 18×22 room. It took the better part of year from start to finish.” Wide-eyed but not surprised, this seems exactly like the thing Dorset Custom Furniture would do. Totally custom, unsurpassed quality and no limit to the vision or execution. And it seems like a reasonable project for Dan to choose. But (and there’s always a but) after scrolling through pages of blog content, we think he’s got a sweet spot for pool tables, too.

And what does Dan do when he’s not in the shop? He’s busy living. “Now, what have we got and where are we???? Almost 40 years in the same geographic area, unbelievably interesting clients/friends, a great shop, a great place to live, fantastic gardens by Kit, two great and talented kids working with us, a little time for golf and tennis … What more could a person ask for? I’d say the ‘State of Craft’ on Goodwood Lane is pretty good right now. I realized this morning I have to occasionally stop and appreciate how lucky I’ve been to have been involved with the ‘State of Craft’ … It’s been a good ‘state’ for me ….” And hearing Dan’s thoughts and understanding his story, I’d have to venture that it’s been good for us, too… Dorset Custom Furniture is a real life feel good story. It’s about Vermont. About art and creativity, and what’s possible. It’s about a talented family, devoted to design, quality and one another.

May we propose a toast … to 35 years in business… To collaboration, community and to keeping the state of craft alive!
Find Dorset Custom Furniture work on our website and on Facebook. And if you’re interested, bookmark Dan’s blog site and keep up with him there.