World of Woodcraft: Western Loudoun Artisans Carve Out New Niches

From the elegant curve of a wine barrel to the graceful form of a live tree, a new generation of artisan woodworkers is finding inspiration in exciting places.

And the heart of Loudoun’s woodworking resurgence just may be at the foot of Short Hill Mountain in northwest Loudoun, where gorgeous scenery and space for workshops is a draw for talented young craftspeople with a decidedly old-school approach.

If you take a drive along the new Loudoun County Artisan Trail, chances are you’ll find John Bestwick in his shop. A longtime Loudouner, Bestwick is a musician and artisan who’s found a niche making attractive and functional furniture and accessories from reclaimed wine barrels.

Bestwick’s Jumbo Bottom Barrel Works, named for the low-lying corner of land near Lovettsville where he lives with his family and runs his shop, is only a few years old, but Bestwick has been a woodworker for more two decades. The Loudoun Valley High School grad, who followed his father into the building business, soon gravitated toward finer woodworking and eventually had a light bulb moment two and a half years ago when he bought some used barrels from a local winery.

“I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with them but knew that I wanted to build stuff from them,” he said. The first project was an Adirondack chair, and it’s been full tilt ever since then—more than 300 barrels later.

“I like this medium. I think it’s fun to work with, it’s fun to design with,” Bestwick said. “It’s repurposing the material. I love the oak and the color. The curves are very comfortable. It’s an interesting niche to be in.”

Bestwick sources from many of the wineries across western Loudoun and revels in the variations in color and texture that come his way. And those first chairs have expanded into a line that includes tables, barstools and his trademark porch swings, along with smaller accessories made from extra staves and metal hoops.

A wine-barrel Adirondack chair, a popular staple of John Bestwick’s Jumbo Bottom Barrel Works. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
            For Bestwick, who’s also known on the local music scene as the guitar player for the old-time band The Short Hill Mountain Boys, community ties are key as he builds relationships with wineries and interacts with friends and neighbors who raise livestock and run farm stores.

“It’s all a part of the whole buy local movement, and I think it is important to support your local businesses,” he said. “We buy locally as often as we can.”

For now, events like the Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival and the Waterford Fair (where he’ll return as an exhibitor for the second year this fall) are Bestwick’s bread and butter. But word of mouth is also a big part of business, and he has high hopes for the new Loudoun County Artisan Trail launched at the end of last year as a way to draw attention to artists and craftspeople and to promote the county’s growing reputation agro-tourism destination.

Bestwick’s workshop is also a stop on the upcoming Western Loudoun Artists Studio Tour, and when he’s not doing a show, can usually be found at his shop, ready for visitors.

“I hope that we can pull together a decent attraction for folks,” he said of the artisan trail project. “That’s the whole point. I’m excited about it. … I work here every day. My doors are open. I welcome people to come by.”

On the other side of Lovettsville, at Creek’s Edge Winery in the tiny village of Taylorstown, wine lovers get a taste of the eye-catching designs of custom furniture maker Nathan Hackett, whose long, natural-edged table is a focal point of the of the tasting room.

Hackett, whose shop is just a few miles away from Bestwick’s, is known for his “live edge” wood furniture, which maintains the shape, the quirks and the full beauty of the tree from which it was made.

Like Bestwick, Hackett runs his business close to home, on a wooded country road near Lovettsville in a brand-new shop opened in January on the property.

Hackett’s designs are a favorite with local wineries and breweries looking for high quality natural curves for bars and tasting rooms and with private clients looking for handcrafted farm tables and unique storage options.

Hackett has the wood processed at a sawmill specializing in natural edged slabs, then works his craft—planing, scraping, sanding and finishing. And a big part of the craft is figuring out how the wood wants to express itself.

“I have to find the best wood, find what’s going to work, come up with a design and figure out how I’m going to work it.” Hackett said. “Sometimes I’ll come up with what I want to do really fast and sometimes I stare at a piece on the wall for months.”

Nathan Hackett, at his shop near Taylorstown, is building a reputation his in-demand live-edge wood furniture. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
            Hackett, who grew up in Yorktown, went into the woodworking trade after high school, working for a series of cabinetmakers and honing his own craft. Hackett’s wife Katie, an Arlington native, brought him to Northern Virginia, but the DC area wasn’t Hackett’s cup of tea, until the couple found the perfect spot in western Loudoun in a picturesque spot surrounded by trees.

And while Hackett often sources from outside suppliers, plenty of his raw materials come from friends and neighbors who think of him when they have a tree that needs to be cut down. Last week, Hackett received a stack of gorgeous honey locust from a neighbor’s property. And when a beloved silver maple (affectionately nicknamed Steve) at Hackett’s children’s school in Hillsboro had to come down last year, Hackett turned a slab into a handcrafted coffee table for the school’s annual auction fundraiser (a grandparent bought the table and donated it to the school).

Hackett takes inspiration from George Nakashima, the noted architect and furniture designer who brought the natural edge/natural grain furniture to popularity in the middle of the last century.

“[Nakashima] said the tree isn’t dying,” Hackett said. “You’re giving it new life that’s going to last forever.”

Hackett’s new workshop is still ramping up, and he hasn’t signed up for the upcoming studio tour or artisan trail at this point. But word of mouth orders are flowing, and Hackett’s accessories like handmade cheese boards and wooden grill scrapers available at local farm stores help spread the word.

And like his friend John Bestwick, he’s doing what he loves in a home studio that allows him to spend time with his young family while continuously learning and improving his craft.

“I think people are getting back to the roots a little bit,” Hackett said. “People have always done it and we’re just continuing on. I’m lucky enough to be able to do it here.”
For information on Jumbo Bottom Barrel Works, go to jumbobottom.com.

To check out Nathan Hackett’s designs, go to hackettwoodworking.com.

For details on the Artisan Center of Virginia’s new Loudoun County Artisan Trail, go to artisanscenterofvirginia.org.

 

jmercker@loudounnow.com

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