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Monday, Nov. 23, 2015

The era of DESIGN

Custom furniture business crafts high-end, one-of-a-kind pieces

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Custom furniture business crafts high-end, one-of-a-kind pieces

Behind some of the most unique, high-end furniture designs in Shreveport- Bossier City and around the country is W. Alexander Custom Designs.

The business, located in Shreveport just outside of the historic arts district, houses some of the most exotic materials available to create custom, high-quality designs.

W. Alexander Custom Designs’ clients aren’t just customers. From the design process, delivery and there after, clients form a relationship with business owners, Wade A. Easley and Claire Childs McGrew.

Some clients range from John Pickens Clothiers to the film industry. Other clients are individuals that commission the pair for specific projects, but what initially formed the business in Shreveport was Easley’s goal create functional art.

“Our [mission] is being able to take our clients ideas and work with what they have to create something that they want and I think that is part of the biggest thing with custom furniture,” Easley said. “Giving them something that is going to fit their needs, so they don’t have to settle on anything, but they can have something of heirloom quality that is going to stick around for a while. We make something that is part of history instead of part of a landfill.”

Meeting of the Minds

If a tree falls in the forest, it’s likely a furniture designer would hear.

A fallen oak was the first material that united Easley and McGrew.

McGrew’s parents own land in Keachi and after an oak fell on the land, they decided to let their furniture-designing daughter get first dibs.

“My parents found Wade through [architect Kevin Bryan] to come mill the tree,” McGrew said.

Milling a tree involves using rotary cutters to remove unwanted material.

Soon Easley found out McGrew was a designer who builds furniture and he became intrigued.

After seeing some of McGrew’s projects, Easley suggested they work together. At the time, Easley wasn’t looking for a partner but was eager to work with someone. He said he saw McGrew’s talent and admired her skill.

Originally from North Louisiana, McGrew worked for years as a cabinetmaker after college. She has been formally trained at The Center for Furniture and Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine.

About five years in the business, McGrew specializes in custom made fine wood furniture and is drawn to crafting vintage modern pieces.

“[Working with Wade] was really perfect timing. It was great because I was just getting out of school and was just doing kinda of my own thing at my shop,” McGrew said. “I was kinda of going crazy working by myself and I was happy to work with other people because you learn – Wade has been doing this for a lot longer and knows a lot more than I do. I just felt like I hit a wall in my own shop, just not being able to learn from someone else.”

Easley said he has been working on pieces since he was a child. His first custom piece was a match box to go beside a fireplace.

Growing up in New England, Easley found inspiration through seeing the Shakers villages with his father.

“Furniture is a big part of the whole Shaker community and heritage. My dad was a woodworker so we would go and get inspired and go back and create pieces in the shop,” Easley said.

Custom Pieces

As a prop maker in films, Easley moved to Shreveport when the industry was booming – though W. Alexander Custom Designs was created for his passion to make functional art.

In his description, functional art are “pieces of art that can be used as something other than just paint on the wall.”

After his move to North Louisiana, Easley worked on a balanced blend of things that were “utilitarian and things that are artistic and creative.”

When the film industry began to lag, Easley said he began focusing on commissioned pieces – that’s when he was contacted by a source working with Moonbots.

“I already made the commitment that I would do custom furniture out of the ordinary,” Easley said.

In working with Moonbot, he found the partnership inspiring.

“The stuff that Brandon Oldenburg and Bill Joyce designed and created, and they had us fabricate, was really the definition of blending art and furniture,” he said.

“Not that every piece of furniture isn’t an art or contemporary craft in itself, but it was taking it to the next level. I thought this was really cool and wanted to try to push this further.”

For Moonbot Studios, Easley crafted a conference table out of custom oriented strand board, desks and other pieces inside their Shreveport office.

Though one of Easley’s favorite pieces is his work with John Pickens Clothiers. For the clothing store, Easley and McGrew created tables, plenty of custom works and – his favorite – an Italian tailor’s desk. This piece is a steel clade desk on wheels with a floating hardwood top.

Because Easley finds his work closely related to a form of architecture, he enjoys working a lot with local architects. Kevin Bryan is a W. Alexander Custom Designs client and together, they designed a custom, one-of-a-kind sample for Bryan’s clients. The piece is a modular bookshelf that has plenty of exotic woods and samples for Bryan to show clients the variety available.

“Each piece is sold before we start it,” Easley said. “This has a huge variety of woods. There’s probably 30 different species of wood. There’s probably 20 different types of joinery. It’s all a mix so that he can go to his customers and say, ‘This is what mahogany looks like. This is what purple heart looks like. This is what a dovetail looks like.’” Both enjoy the collaboration efforts with clients and appreciate the feedback.

“To me, bringing that joy to someone and having them be so ecstatic about it, I can’t wait to share stuff with people.

That’s why I always share pictures early, because I just can’t wait to show people,” he said. “If I can bring joy to someone with my work – that’s the cat’s meow for me.”

What Works for Some

Though their commissioned work connects them more to their clients, a large thrill to Easley and McGrew is working in film and television.

“Movie props last year made up a huge part of our business,” Easley said.

Recently, McGrew crafted a dream catcher made out of sticks and frogs for the TV series filmed south of Shreveport, “Salem.”

McGrew said she likes the challenge and the creative process that goes into those specific pieces. More importantly, Easley said the pair likes being connected and contributing to another form of art – that being in film.

Another “Salem” creation were canoes constructed out of pine. In the series, the canoes were burned but, both mentioned they didn’t mind watching them go up in flames.

“I like the chaos and challenges [working in film] brings,” Easley said. “So I don’t want to move out of it.”

Easley said he is grateful for contributing to the film industry but likes to focus on designs that are created to last beyond a film or series.

McGrew focuses on the craftsmanship and quality of the product and in doing so, they seek out quality materials shipped in from parts of North Carolina and Arkansas.

Being passionate about the materials they use is only a portion of the process, Easley and McGrew are well-versed in the advantages and disadvantages of unique and rare types of materials.

“I think working with exotic woods is fun because each wood is a different quality when you work with it. Some are more brittle and some splinter and you just have to figure it all out. It’s nice to work with cherry and be familiar with the characteristics, but the exotic stuff is always a venture,” McGrew said.

“What we work with and what we are attracted to are two different things, because of budgetary constraints,” Easley said.

Future in Furniture

As the fallen oak from the land in Keachi sits drying and awaiting its fate, Easley and McGrew continue their work together, along with two other skilled laborers.

“We always work together on a piece,” Easley said.

Looking into the future, W. Alexander Custom Designs has plans to grow and has hopes to be more accessible to those interested in high-end designs.

A popup shop for W. Alexander Custom Designs is planned 4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 17- 18 at 6014 Line Ave. During those days, customers can purchase a few signature items from Easley and McGrew.

Easley said the popup shop will be an experiment that will lead into their future goals of creating a signature line of furniture.

“We are not an alternative to a furniture store,” Easley said. “[We are a] better alternative to high-end furniture.”

However with that high-end title, Easley promises clients their pieces will be around for years to come because of the quality and craftsmanship that goes into their work.

“There’s not a lot of people out there that are creating the type of furniture that has a story behind it,” he said. “We are creating our own legacy.”

Learn more:

For more information on W. Alexander Custom Designs, go to www.walexanderdesign.com. For commissioned works, contact Wade Easley at 525-3923 or at info@walexanderdesign.com.

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