Visions drive passionate work

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Henry Fox has an uncanny ability to visualize designs in his head that most people, including many furniture makers, simply are incapable of doing. If there was such a thing as a sixth sense — visualization — the owner of Fox Brothers Furniture Studio in Newburyport, Mass., would certainly qualify as possessing it.

Whether it is a bicycle-powered aircraft built at MIT, or a wooden rowing shell similar to the one he rowed in during college, Fox develops his design ideas from the shapes of all types of objects. His furniture represents a combination of his custom designs, architectural elements and his constant use of alternative materials, which result in pieces that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

HENRY FOX

Owner: Fox Brothers Furniture Studio
Location: Newburyport, Mass.
Shop size: 5,000 sq. ft.
Professional experience: 25 years
Known for: Use of alternative materials
Member: New Hampshire Furniture Masters Association
Favorite show: Smithsonian Institution Craft Show
About his work: “I design and build original contemporary furniture that is made out of mostly wood, and that is a response that really is very accurate. The other thing that I’ll sometimes say is I am just like an architect, but I don’t build houses.”

The crafts world would characterize his custom furniture as mixed media because of his history of using materials such as stainless steel, copper, Imago, bronze, glass, cobalt glass, slate, leather, Dacron, lapis, mother of pearl, aluminum, gold leaf and, most recently, copper cloth to accompany various domestic and exotic woods and veneer.

In the genes
It’s possible Fox’s architectural prowess is genetic. After all, his great-grandfather was renowned architect John Mervin Carrere, who partnered with Thomas Hastings to form the architectural firm Hastings and Carrere in the late 1800s. The firm designed numerous projects, primarily in New York, including the famous New York Public Library, which opened in 1911.

“I think about him from time to time because clearly three-dimensional visualization is an aptitude that has been passed down,” Fox says. “It skipped my father, but he is good at other things. And I actually have Carrere’s drafting tools and I use them from time to time, which is sort of intense. There have been times, not recently, where I’ve thought that it would have been interesting to have talked to him and say, ‘What do you think of this table? What do you think of this stuff?’ ”

As Fox describes it, he grew up “making stuff.” It began with an endless cycle of making and tearing down tree houses, which was followed by building a few boats when he was a little bit older, some that floated and others that met a less fortunate fate. His most ambitious childhood project was the design of a catamaran when he was 12 or 13, which he built with very rudimentary tools, that was “moderately successful.”

Getting started
Without any formal woodworking training, Fox moved to Newburyport and joined his business partner, Andy Willemsen, to form Wendover Woodworks in 1983.

“He showed me the way around the shop, but it was quite clear that I had the aptitude to operate the equipment and also to think about what it was that we were interested in making.”

They built traditional work, reproductions such as mahogany pencil post beds, small carvings and decorative moldings, but Fox felt there was something missing. He was more interested in the design component and building aspect, and the aesthetics left him kind of flat.

“In the beginning, I was really nervous about trying to design original work, because I didn’t know whether it was going to be received or how it was going to be received. But we just kept going and somewhere I sort of took a survey and said, ‘I think I’ve got the aptitude to do this; I’m going to keep going.’ ”