He may exude a laid-back charm, but run your hands across one of David Lennard’s creations-a simple, heavy table with an aura of antiquity about it-and you’ll realize you’re in the presence of a serious artist. At the studio of his one-man custom furniture business, Handmade Primitive Arts, Lennard fashions large solid beds, tables and cabinets that evoke an unaffected dignity of centuries past.
"Everything I do is 90 percent 200 years ago," Lennard says. "No bells and whistles. It’s really minimalistic stuff."
Lennard has loved art since his California childhood with an engineer father and a mother who spent summers driving her children to Spanish missions and New Mexican towns, hunting for antiques for the shop she owned. But he only began creating his own pieces eight years ago after attending an auction in San Antonio, Texas, where he saw an antique kitchen table go under the hammer for $4,000.
"I said, ‘I can make that,’" Lennard recalls. "It was like a challenge. I started studying how furniture was put together."
Lennard spent hours frequenting woodshops, studying antiques and rummaging through old woodpiles to find raw materials for tables. He completed a couple of pieces for his home, and friends immediately placed orders. Lennard soon assimilated techniques and developed a clean, minimalist, yet ageless style: His tables look like they have been sitting in your grandmother’s upscale kitchen for the past four generations.
He officially went into business as a custom furniture builder when he moved to Washington, D.C. in 1996, and brought the business with him when he moved to Sarasota three years later. Now, Lennard has a network of clients and designers who clamor for pieces to stock homes on Longboat Key and ship as far away as Connecticut, Maine, New York and Washington. They love the antique look he creates by using early joinery techniques and vintage timber.
"I use very pure wood," Lennard says. "I’ll take new metal parts and dip them in chemicals, beat them up with hammers, leave them outside in the rain."
Lennard turns the legs from scratch and uses English wax finishes for the textured, inviting surfaces he ends with. Although he’s meticulous with measurements, he approaches each unique piece intuitively, often working through the night fueled by bursts of creative energy.
"I can see things in my mind before they happen," he says about his designs. "I ask clients what they want it to feel like, and as we’re talking, it’s being built in my mind."
He believes the charm of his pieces, which fetch between $500 and $5,000, reflects his clients’ yearning for a simpler time.
"It’s a response to this sterilized computer age we’re living in," he says. "We want furniture we can live with. People want to feel something that’s real."
For more information, check out Lennard’s Web site at www.handmadeprimitivearts.com.