Maine’s Steve Ryder uses veneer to make custom furniture and home accessories, from bud vases to coffee tables.
Unlike many custom furniture makers, Steve Ryder’s material of choice is veneer, a thin decorative coating that is applied to a coarser wood. A master manipulator, he uses tiny pieces of the material to create interesting and unusual effects with a technique called sand shading. “By placing the ends of veneer into hot sand, a fading burn is created giving the illusion of being woven,”he says, “but it’s actually assembled like a jigsaw puzzle with all the little pieces taped together then glued down.”
Although Ryder graduated with a degree in biology, he knew his destiny was to design furniture soon after he started working as carpenter during the summer. He realized, he says, that his true passion was to “build stuff.” Ryder decided to study at The Chippendale International School of Furniture, where he says his favorite part of the program was exploring some local homes and studying the lines in the antique furniture and restoring some of the pieces.
Ryder’s pieces are inspired by other Maine woodworkers but says his customers play a significant role in his designs, too. He talks to each customer about various woods that can be used to build a piece of furniture that will speak to them and yet be built within their budget.
Ryder’s focus is always to bring out the best in each piece of veneer, and then design around that. First he makes a sketch and then process takes on a life of its own. “I do a few simple drawings to get started but I really enjoy designing as I go,” he says. For insurance Ryder makes prototypes out of less expensive pieces of wood “to test out the look and the process.”
Ryder has been known as the “veneer guy” ever since he worked in a small veneer shop, Veneer Services Unlimited in Kennebunkport, doing small custom architectural layups for cabinet makers. Ryder has also taught veneering classes at Rockler Woodworking, a retail woodworking store. “If anyone had a question about veneering, they were sent to me,” he says.
After gaining confidence and experience building and designing for family and friends, Ryder opened his own shop and began showing his wares at art shows and galleries around New England. He added smaller items, such as bud vases, to his line because he wanted people “to have something to buy and walk out of the show with in hand,” he says.
Ryder sees more than just designing and building one-of-a-kind pieces in his future. “It’s a dream to be able to purchase the shop I now rent that’s located across the Saco River,” he says, “and put a shop in the front with my work and pieces from other Maine artists.”
Top image, rosewood table by Steve Ryder. Photo by Woody Leland