Furniture maker Alfons Laicher, from Victoria, BC, on Biedermeier design, the Internet and meeting client expectations.
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Q & A with Alfons Laicher
How long have you been building furniture?
My training in furniture making started in 1984. I became a journeyman furniture maker in 1987 and have been building furniture ever since.
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
I enjoy all sorts of jobs, from furniture repair to kitchen cabinetry to custom-designed furniture.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
I don’t wear an apron, but in my pockets would be a pencil, my folding ruler and a tape measure.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
I’m not a purist. I use hand tools when I have the time and if it makes sense to use them. If it is more expedient to use power tools, I use them.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
I like the old tools. I have an old Stanley compass plane. I don’t use it very much, but it has a special place in my tool cabinet.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
It used to be geometric shapes, but with more experience the flowing curves find their way into my creations. But there is not one or the other; it depends very much on the piece of furniture.
Western maple has so much character, but I also enjoy working with walnut and cherry and pear. Pear has sentimental value for me because I brought some with me when I came to Canada from Germany.
Least favourite wood?
I am not a fan of the exotic woods like teak.
Laicher made this poplar, beech, walnut and western maple table on speculation, but it ended up in his living room. He got the idea to make a table shaped like a leaf while on his way to lunch one day when he noticed a birch leaf on the ground.
Made of pear wood brought with him when he immigrated to Canada from Germany, Laicher made these chairs after seeing them in a design book. They’re still the basis for most of the chairs he makes to this day
Quotes from Alfons Laicher
My studio is on the second floor of an old building built around the turn of the century. The building is a maze of little studios.
The first thing I do on arrival, which is usually about 8 a.m., is turn on my radio headset to CBC. Then it’s down to work at the bench or machine. Lunchtime usually involves walking for about 20 minutes to a café.
I prefer classical music. I think I get some inspiration from the music. Occasionally I find myself waltzing around the shop.
I recently bought a Festool Domino cutter. It’s fun to use, and it’s very versatile.
I get my design inspiration from books, and particularly from historical design. I am constantly aware of my surroundings, and nearly anything can be inspirational.
I am happiest working with my hands, being creative and enjoying the autonomy offered by being a sole proprietor.
Start by working for someone else first and make your mistakes there. When you have acquired some practical knowledge, then consider going on your own if you want to.
While most of my clients are as excited by my products as I am, there have been a few times when the project hasn’t met the expectations of my clients. Understanding ‘why’ is always difficult.
Mid-century modern design has seen its day again. I used to like live edge furniture, but it is overdone now.
Over the years I have moved to more curved designs as my confidence has grown.
The media needs to provide more exposure for craftspeople. Programming like that seen on HGTV is actually counter-productive, as it raises peoples’ expectations that craftsmanship takes no time at all.
I like Biedermeier design in general. The pieces are some of the first commercial designs created for the masses. Consequently, the designs are simple but retain the elegance of the period in Austria and Germany. Josef Danhauser’s designs are stunning. I am amazed by the craftsmanship of builders of that era, as they were innovative and used techniques like veneers that were new at that time. I also like David Roentgen, who created cabinetry that was a mechanical marvel.
The Internet will either help furniture makers have access to customers, or it will kill us because people have more access to mass-produced furniture.
Advanced technology is a two-edged sword: It helps us to make new innovations in our designs, but it also makes the process more industrialized.
Getting paid what the piece is really worth can be frustrating.
A couple of years ago I built a hall table in the art deco style out of walnut, thuya burl and maple inlay. Building the table was very inspirational and enjoyable. I entered it in a local art show, and it sold to a collector.
I believe that Canada is becoming less welcoming as the demographics change. Young people have different values, re-decorate more often and seem to want the latest fad in design. They don’t seem to appreciate good craftsmanship.
The most important Canadian piece might be the farmhouse table that brought families together through history right up to today.