Bobby Grace on Nova Scotia, NASCAR and how his first designs fell flat.
Q & A with Bobby Grace
How long have you been building furniture professionally for?
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
I have had to diversify. I tell prospective customers I can build anything. One of these days it will get me in trouble, but it hasn’t yet.
Tell us a couple interesting things about your personal life.
My ancestors emigrated from England in the early 1800s to settle in Nova Scotia. If I was not a furniture maker I don’t know what I would have been or would be. In the 1980s I was contemplating moving to the US and pursuing a career building race engines for NASCAR.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
I don’t wear a shop apron.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
I prefer power tools. When you have to make money in woodworking, you have to get it done quickly. I don’t use hand tools very often.
Solid wood or veneer?
I prefer solid wood over veneer any day!
Figured wood or straight grain?
I prefer figured wood and wood with interesting colours, as it provides a whole lot more interest in my work.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
I prefer flowing curves to geometric shapes, just more visually pleasing to me.
Built for a woman who works in the entertainment industry in Ontario, this chair is made of black walnut and leather and can be taken apart for transportation. The solid wood wings are textured to look like leather.
Part of a series Grace has been working on, this African mahogany settee has a sculpted seat and cyma curved back slats for low back support.
Queen Anne Table
A few years ago Grace decided he was going to only build two styles of furniture: Queen Anne and his own. This curly maple table is one of his latest pieces, and was finished with a solvent based dye and spray lacquer.
Quotes from Bobby Grace
My studio is small and cramped. I air dry locally milled wood as much as possible for great savings, not only in product but traveling to pick up small amounts of material for individual jobs.
I have an 8" jointer, 20" planer, 10" five HP table saw and 15" band saw to do the bulk of my work.
My daily routine varies, but I do love early morning and late at night. One of the most important reasons I am self-employed is the flexibility I have.
I get my design inspirations from three places really: 1. Other people’s work; 2. 18th-century furniture; 3. Canada’s Ocean Playground: Nova Scotia. I love to look at other people’s work, and here in Nova Scotia is where Canada began. The traditional buildings, the furniture made here, the resourcefulness of the people, the history and my genetic connection to the past have put me where I am today with my furniture making.
The two pieces of advice for up-and-coming makers: 1. Keep it simple; and 2. Make it your own.
In the early days, I came up short in designs a lot. My rocking chair, for example, took 12 years to design. The people who have the early ones loved them at the time, and that was the most important thing I guess. Looking back, I cringe at my first one. I almost fear to admit I built it.
There is really only one type of furniture I am tired of looking at, and that is the live edge trend. It seems everyone is copying each other and not a lot of creativity is necessary to execute a piece.
Today I concentrate on commissions. Speculating costs a lot of time and money. The only things I speculate on now are things that I like. If it does not sell, I take it home. Pretty simple.
I believe marketing is more important than the work itself, really. If you can’t find people willing to buy, you are out of business before you start.
Business is difficult at the best of times, but particularly on the east coast with a limited population and income. I have had to be creative and expand into several areas to make it work. I refinish furniture, repair furniture, build custom furniture, build my own designs, and I work on yachts.
I don’t really know how studio furniture will change over the next 50 years. I’m not very confident about what I see – the removal of Industrial Arts (woodworking) from our schools and children raised in front of computer screens and TVs. I hope I am wrong. I believe the most positive changes in the furniture-making industry are the addition of CNC machines.
I have a few pieces I'm most proud of. Two chairs in the Nova Scotia room at Canada House, London, England, a chair to a National Hockey League Superstar, and my "Bat Chair" made for a unique individual in Ontario, who is in entertainment.