The design-obsessed focus on many things: the curves in an out-of-use font, the gradations between different Pantone color swatches, or the profiles of classic cars. Brooklyn-based furniture maker Mark Jupiter feels that way about the grains in aged wood. Touring the basement of his studio, where he stores salvaged pieces for future projects, is like going through an arboreal museum. There are staves from a Brooklyn water tower, and pieces of a pier fashioned from centuries-old pieces of redwood covered with mineral deposits from years spent soaking in the East River. A piece of reclaimed Georgia Heart Pine, the backbone of old warehouses and factories across the northeast, is being turned into a table. After running over the boards with a metal detector to remove old nails, planing them, then sending them upstate to dry in a kiln, Jupiter and his six employees are ready to build custom furniture. He tends to laugh when people say that reclaimed wood is cheaper.
Jupiter's 8,500-square-foot space, a former Brillo Soap factory turned sculpture studio turned wood shop, represents an increasingly rare connection to the neighborhood's industrial past, and an example of an craftsman-led business in a gentrifying area. Dumbo (down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass) was once filled with warehouses and factories, but now houses boutiques, tech firms and high-end retailers (West Elm, for whom Jupiter has designed office furniture, has their corporate offices nearby).
"Our shop is the last of its kind," he says, referencing both its custom approach to furniture making for clients like Twitter and Google, and his location. "I'm a like a tailor. My customers are buying a suit that doesn't exist, and we dream it up."
Jupiter's interest in the trade comes in part from his family, a long line of New York carpenters and tradesmen. His great-grandfather was a tinsmith, and he learned carpentry by watching his father. At one point, Jupiter eventually ran his own homebuilding company, based up in the Catskills, called New World Home, but then he decided to sell and focus on high-end furniture. After he chose to start his own company in 2012 to make what he calls "artisanal work at all scales," he says he literally stumbled upon the studio space where he works and decided to work out of Brooklyn. Initially entering the market as a custom operation as the demand for reclaimed furniture continues to grow, his eponymous company now does $2 million annually.
"I want to honor my client's intentions, but give them something truly scalable," he says. "With me, you can change your idea midstream, and I can alter and interpret."
The challenge for him is price point. While he says his niche in the market is making high-quality yet accessible heirloom pieces, adjusting to fit the situation, his work still costs twice of four-times more than comparable pieces by West Elm of Restoration Hardware. He sees adaptability and client consultation as his selling point, and plans to expand into more metal work (a metal shop will soon be built in the basement). A tour of the shop floor, where a metal table with custom floral patterns, destined for a Vogue editor's backyard, sits on display, and a bluish table, slowly oxidizing to illuminate the veins in the reclaimed wood top, rests in the back, suggests he's more than willing to make adjustments.
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