Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, and when those forest giants are felled, woodworkers like Matt Alexander exuberantly take their slices of timber and meticulously transform them into what may become heirloom pieces of furniture.
Standing in his HollerDesign workshop nestled in a pastoral setting on the south side of Wilson County, the craftsman peers proudly at an 18-foot-long and 52-inch-wide conference table that’s a work in progress. The hewn inch-and-a-half slabs, precious in Alexander’s sight, came from a massive 3½-foot-diameter oak that a friend was forced to take down, coincidentally, in the 100 Oaks neighborhood of Nashville.
The furniture designer’s business, like an acorn, began small 10 years ago inside his grandpa’s century-old general store in the hamlet called Cainsville.
Today, he’s settled in a new woodshop where things are going like gangbusters, and while he continues to make pieces like small stools, cheese and biscuit boards, change trays and butcher blocks, 75 percent of his efforts go into creating larger pieces.
“The majority of our work comes from commercial projects now. We do a lot of freestanding furniture for restaurants, bars and coffee shops, and we have a lot of products now that we ship all over the country,” said Alexander, 37. “All the design is done here.”
Working hands-on with the assistance of three employees, he’s happy in his pursuit of “building furniture and products designed by customs of the South and using local-sourced materials.”
Most of those local materials are wood from white oak, walnut, cherry and ash trees, which are being reincarnated into tables, chairs, countertops and host stands in such Nashville eateries as Butcher & Bee, Five Points Pizza, O-Ku Sushi and D’Andrews Bakery & Café.
“We are currently finishing up a set of rocking chairs for the Tennessee State Museum. We’ve shipped work to Oregon, California and New York. We’ve done some projects in Atlanta, Charleston and Knoxville but mainly in Nashville,” Alexander said. “We’re about to start work on new tables for a famous chef, Sean Brock, who’s opening a new restaurant in Nashville in 2020.
“My wife, Katie Vance, is an interior designer with Powell Architecture + Building Studio in Nashville, so we collaborate on some projects.”
The couple has scheduled their first HollerDesign open house this Saturday.
“We’ll have a lot of our smaller products for sale, and you can see the shop and how we operate,” said the craftsman, who still makes residential projects like rockers, dressers, tables and chairs. “I will do a sawmill demonstration if the weather is good.”
The family tree
Alexander grew up in Cainsville, where his mother’s side of the family, the Harris’s, planted deep roots when the village was established by George Jones Cain in 1829. At the age of 7, Matt began helping his father, a cattle farmer, artist and poet, make furniture and crafts.
The graduate of Oakland High School in Murfreesboro earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in sculpture at the University of Tennessee before obtaining a master’s degree in 3D design in furniture and product design at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit. He was working as an assistant at the Jason Miller Studio in Brooklyn when the recession hit in 2008-2009. That caused him to reset his goals.
“It seemed like a good time to pull up and do what I wanted to do. I moved back here to the old general store and got kind of organic and got to do furniture for the restaurant Rolf & Daughters and for Barista Parlor coffeehouse,” he recalled. “Both became famous and then other coffee shops and restaurants wanted us to build something for them.”
The best part about what he does he says is “prototyping new ideas and furniture. I enjoy designing furniture but can’t stay behind the computer for long from getting antsy.”
In the meantime, his mate has some home projects she would like to see enter the house sooner than later. Hint for Matt: dresser, coffee table, chairs.
Now some 10-plus years since he replanted his roots in Cainsville, Alexander has carved a solid name for himself in furniture design and fabrication.
Reflecting on his labors, he says, “I’ve been humbled. Things have gone like I thought it would. I think we’re cruising along at this point. I do this full time. It’s my thing.”
SEE THE WOOD
HollerDesign will hold an open house on Saturday, Dec. 7 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Furniture maker Matt Alexander will display his rocking chairs, cutting boards, coffee trays and charcuterie boards for sale. He will present a sawmill demonstration at 1 p.m. unless the weather is bad. Free hot dogs and soft drinks will be available. The workshop is located in the Wilson County community of Cainsville about 18 miles south of Lebanon via Cainsville Road. The address is 615 Saint John Rd.