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Furniture designer Tommy Farrell, 60, has been working with wood since he was a teenager growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he made some of his first pieces out of barrel staves salvaged from the docks of Goya Foods. A graduate of the furniture design program at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., he moved to Little Rock in 1983 after meeting his former wife, an Arkansas native, on a cruise. Most recently, his North Little Rock-based firm, Tommy Farrell Custom Furniture, made and installed two spectacular conference tables for the new home of advertising firm CJRW, which just moved in at the corner of Third and Main streets. One of the tables, made of African etimoe and sapele wood, is 28 feet long, weighs over a thousand pounds, and scissors smoothly apart to allow for presentations.
Why do you build furniture?
I grew up in Brooklyn, and my parents bought a brownstone when I was a child. Like any old house, multiple things went wrong with it. My mother was self-taught in the art of carpentry, electrical, plumbing. Together, we built backyard fences, redid some of the casework inside, built bookcases. So, much like the child of a lawyer or a doctor, that became a focus for me. The best thing about it is that at the end of each week, you're visually rewarded. That goes a long way.
What is good furniture design to you?
For me, the most important thing is to make it so that it's timeless. When you go back in 10 years and look at it, it still looks good. You weren't subject to the trend of that moment. We try and build future vintage furniture that can be classics.
Has your taste changed over the years?
I've always been a modernist. I was a lone wolf when I got here and now I have lots of friends and people that appreciate what we do.
If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing for a living?
I never even considered anything else. That's the nice thing about being a simpleton [laughs].
Which do you like better: "I am building a piece of furniture" or "I have built a piece of furniture?"
Building. I'll leave a job sometimes saying, "We did the best we could." The conflict of the project is like the old man and the sea. Sometimes the fish of the project gets the best of you. But I'll come back six months later, when the objectivity has come back, and say, "This is really good. We did a really good job."
They say all roofers' roofs leak and all plumbers' toilets don't flush. Is your house stocked with crappy Ikea furniture because you're just tired of looking at fine furniture by the end of the week?
No, actually we benefit from some of the overages from time to time. My wife, Paula, sometimes comes home and there'll be a new dining table because I've sold the existing one.
Why do you work with wood? Why not steel or some other medium?
Wood is something you unwrap. You make it come alive with the way you shape it, the degree of finish you put on it, the stain colors. It's extremely seductive.
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