A ripple evoking sculpture, the patina of fine wood grain and unexpected details all are hallmarks of Daniel Rickey’s
handcrafted furniture. Rickey’s work is elegant in its sheer simplicity; clean lines and simple forms make their creation appear deceptively effortless. His chairs, tables, desks and storage pieces are distinctly functional yet decidedly unfussy—demonstrating a masterful art of restraint.
Refreshingly unpretentious, Rickey infuses something extra into each piece; heart might very well be the word. It’s clear he loves making furniture and respects the medium of wood. “A beautiful piece of wood can be intoxicating,” he reflects. “It’s unique and dictates what it wants to be. In many cases, I’m the first one to see the grain of a board. I feel it’s my duty to give that piece its best life.”
The life of his products is of supreme importance to the 33-year-old woodworker. “I’m inspired by making something beautiful but simple, something that’s going to last,” he reveals. “I love putting the date on a piece I’ve made because I want somebody years from now to know how old it is. I want them to see that its maker is speaking through it.”
Whether working with walnut, white oak, maple or cherry—all personal favorites—Rickey factors in how the wood will age when he conceives his designs and handles the material. “Wood is constantly alive and moving—it’s changing with the seasons,” he explains. “So when I’m taking material off the face of it, I do it over the course of several days or a week to make sure the wood has a chance to acclimate to its surroundings without cupping or bowing.”
Rickey has nearly two decades of experience. The award-winning designer was born in Cleveland and moved around with his family, eventually settling in Richmond. His father first introduced him to woodworking as a youngster; Rickey fondly remembers building tree forts with his friends. He went on to study woodworking at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he fell in love with the craft. After apprenticing under Andrew Flint, he completed a two-year program in fine and creative woodworking at Rockingham Community College and opened his own studio in 2009.
Tracing his inspiration back to modern Danish and Scandinavian design, Rickey feels those genres influenced his dedication to traditional home design craftsmanship, comfort and a pleasing aesthetic that will endure trends and the passage of time. Ideas for new designs often wake him up at night. He makes notes and sketches while they’re fresh in his memory.
Whether he’s embarking on one of his own design concepts or on a commission for a residential or commercial client, Rickey sketches the piece multiple times. He then merges his sketches with computer drawing programs that enable him to execute his final draft with the greatest precision. With the computer, he says, “I can visualize it, move the camera around and see it from all angles—it’s like building the piece without actually building it.”
He goes through as many renditions as possible to get it right, then makes a prototype or scale model. He might even build a life-size prototype out of cheap lumber before going final. When certain his piece will work, he moves on to finer, premium wood.
In his 7,000-square-foot, flat-brick warehouse studio in Richmond’s up-and-coming Scott’s Addition neighborhood, Rickey is surrounded by tons of lumber, heavy machinery and hand tools; fans whir overhead. It is here he mills raw timber into smooth board and makes templates for the parts in order to replicate them. Depending on the piece, he cuts the joinery before cutting the parts to ensure everything will mesh seamlessly. And though the joinery fits tightly together, he still adds glue as a precaution. “A piece of furniture gets moved around a lot,” he observes. “It’s all about the life of the product.”
With the joinery done and the parts cut, the piece is ready for assembly and finishing. Unless a client requests a darker finish, stain or paint color, Rickey says, “I strive to make my pieces look as though they have no finish on them. They’re silky smooth, but you can still feel and see their wood grain. I prefer not to impart color into the finish.”
The craftsman has an affinity for local wood. On a recent project, a client wanted a 42-by-96-inch walnut table that would open to 120 inches. He designed it with a trestle base and a butterfly leaf so one person can easily enlarge it. He found engineering the piece as exciting as seeing the tree from which it was cut. He selected the walnut from a millworker in Richmond who saws his own walnut logs. “It was perfectly matching Virginia walnut,” he recalls, “and I could tell the client I shook hands with the sawyer.”
For more information, visit danielrickeyfurniture.com; 804-687-2313.