|He revels in restoration|
|A reliable clientele|
|Ideal business location|
Subcontractors include Mary May, a carver from Charleston, S.C., guilder Michael O’Brien and upholsterers Ross Sheehan and Richard Waters, all from Savannah.
Ideal business location
Guenther’s shop is housed in a two-story, 5,000-sq.-ft.,19th-century building, opened up as one main floor with high ceilings. Right in the middle of the Savannah historic district, it is only a block away from his home. He rented the facility as part of a co-op in 1985 and now owns the building.
A charming entryway enhanced with natural light makes a good first impression to clients who can walk in to see earnest artisans meticulously using traditional woodworking methods on historic pieces. A central staircase leads to an office loft, where Guenther retreats into bookwork and designing. The remainder of the facility is divided into a large machinery room, finishing room and display room nicknamed the “Halfway House,” where pieces are stored before work begins.
Though hand tools are used most frequently here, Guenther has a good $60,000 invested in machinery, including a Laguna 18" band saw, JET wide belt sander, General drum sander, Multi-Router, Powermatic table saw, Felder joiner/planer and sliding table saw, Bridgewood planer, Delta lathe and drill press, and SECO dust collector.
CNC machinery isn’t really a matter of discussion here. Guenther does, however, hope to get an upgraded centralized dust collection system in the near future.
The labor is so intensive, working with great material only makes sense. Guenther uses exceptional lumber, including wide boards cut from the same tree. He gets his tiger maple, walnut, claro walnut, cherry, curly cherry, and other figured hardwoods from suppliers such as Groff and Groff Lumber Inc. of Quarryville, Pa., and Good Hope Hardwoods of Landenberg, Pa. He often gets his veneers from Certainly Wood in East Aurora, N.Y.
His employees include White, a British conservator who trained at West Dean in Sussex, England, and specializes in all aspects of historic finishes and woodworking treatments; and furniture designers Jason Wech and Jason Thackeray, graduates of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Mary Mistak works part-time in the office.
Networking pays off
Guenther has a plethora of studio and museum recognition under his belt, including a Goddard Townsend breakfront six-shell secretary that was part of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers’ exhibit in 2006 at the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah. Guenther credits master furniture maker Allan Breed for supplying full-scale drawings and discussing critical construction details.
By chance, Guenther was working on the secretary when Leslie and Leigh Keno (hosts of “Antiques Roadshow”) came to town in 2004. Guenther has also been featured on HGTV’s “Modern Masters” series.
In 2006, he hosted a demonstration by Philippe Raymond, a French marquetry expert, and has made presentations for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Society of the Colonial Dames, and The Furniture Society.
He’s also a supporter and member of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Society of American Period Furniture Makers, and American Institute for Conservation of Historic Works of Art, which lays down the law on how classic furniture should be approached.
“The ongoing exchanges, ideas and opportunities have always surprised me,” says Guenther. “Through the Wooden Artifacts Group, I had the opportunity to study French furniture and conservation practices in France. What an experience.”
Members of theses organizations also help Guenther provide additional services to his clients, including written and photographic documentation, object surveys, and wood and finish micro-analysis. Some clients care deeply about the lineage of their furniture, and others not so much. He is prepared either way.
“I’d say 50 percent of our customers are really interested in the quality and authenticity of the pieces they buy. The others are mostly interested in the look, but want to correctly maintain the value.”
Guenther has two children — a son who’s interested in composing music and a daughter still in college — and doesn’t foresee either of them following in his footsteps. As for the next step, Guenther is comfortable with his small-scale operation and doesn’t plan to expand.
“I’m always looking for the more serious furniture clients, whether they’re the design-build type or the collectors.”