Yoav Liberman first came to my attention at Woodworking in America in the fall of 2016. We met in the trade show hall and quickly fell into a discussion about reality versus fantasy when it comes to making furniture for a living. Impressed by his openness and intelligence, I made a point of attending his talk on designing furniture using reclaimed wood, a topic of longstanding interest to me.
Liberman came to furniture making via architecture. As a result, he has the perspective of an engineer, as well as that of a craftsman and artist. He is also an accomplished draftsman, many of whose renderings are so beautiful I would gladly frame them and put them on my office wall. But what struck me most in his presentation was the deep respect he gives to the materials used in his work. He seeks out their history and works these stories into his pieces’ design. It’s a process he compares to the challenges faced by chefs who use seasonal produce: “As a chef creates a meal based on the ingredients of the season, I meld the material I acquire to create a completely new and interesting piece that pays homage to the individual history of its ingredients.”
“Homage” is no exaggeration. Liberman’s work gives new life not just to the materials others have rejected, but to the people in whose lives they’ve played a part. Such respect is rare in a culture that encourages us to see things as separable from those who make and use them; this is an exemplary kind of reverence for the everyday. But don’t confuse reverent with stuffy; Liberman’s designs, like his writing, are leavened by a smart sense of humor and refreshing readiness to question convention.
So when Liberman told me he was working on a book, I knew I’d want to read it.
In Working Reclaimed Wood, Liberman provides a useful taxonomy of reclaimed wood and explains the processes involved in turning each variety into material suitable for furniture making. He offers diverse examples of pieces made from reclaimed wood, some mind-bogglingly ingenious in their utilization of discarded wood and metal parts. There are suggested sources for materials, detailed instructions on cleaning salvaged hardware or adding patina, and a very good section on stretching boards (illustrated by some of the most eye-popping pieces in the volume). The book also includes fascinating snippets of history, such as an account of how the peculiar habit of live oak trees made this the timber of choice for constructing ships’ hulls.
Liberman’s character animates the text, whether he’s explaining how he made a particular design decision or sharing a glimpse into life with his young son. He’s thoughtful, funny, principled and kind, all of which contribute to make the book a good, as well as informative, read.* The best examples of this are the sections about his process in designing the signature pieces scattered throughout. The “Flash Teapot,” which started out as a bowl the author turned out of a rotten limb, paired with a silver lid from a sugar bowl (Liberman charmingly calls it “orphaned”), takes a dramatic turn at the first gallery where it’s shown, only to end up being purchased by a pair of collectors in L.A.
For my money, though, the best section is the one about “Attn: John Everdell,” the highboy Liberman had long wanted to build. The materials that presented themselves resulted in a piece that’s less highboy than cabinet on a stand. Liberman’s account of how he created this piece after pulling a pile of coarse crating from a dumpster reads like a romantic adventure. This tale alone is worth the price of the book. I’m not going to spoil it for you. Read it for yourself.–Nancy R. Hiller, author of Making Things Work
*A few errors slipped past the editor, and it’s exasperating that the conclusion of the section on patina was inadvertently cut from page 115.