Meet the Man Behind Your Favorite New Home Accent - Bob Vila

Meet the Man Behind Your Favorite New Home Accent

From the heart of the Catskill Mountains, one man is creating a sense of wonder in rustic, handcrafted home goods.

Photo: GrayWorks Design

Many homeowners turn felled landscaping trees into cheap firewood, piling up split logs by a backyard shed or in front of the living room hearth. But for Andrew Gray, these old trees are the beginning of something a little more magical. With a wood drying and milling operation out of Woodstock, New York, his company turns ordinary reclaimed lumber into stunning housewares and furniture. Distinguished by a meticulous yet rustic sense of craftsmanship, GrayWorks Design has become one of the Hudson Valley’s leading makers. Here’s what Andrew had to say about how he got started and the surprises he’s found along the way.

Photo: Grayworks Design

How did you get involved in this line of work? How long have you been at it?
I had a background as a carpenter and worked for general contractors. Around here we call it a hired gun carpenter. I’d jump from one crew to another. I struggled to reinvent myself a bit. And the reinvention was to go into sculptural furniture making. There’s this desire to take trees that landscapers and tree services people cart away and do something with it. That’s a big part of how I got involved with this type of woodworking.

It’s been about 10 years since I started making furniture, and the main product has been this footed platte that we sell on Etsy. Yesterday, I had this couple come into my shop and it was the only thing I had to show them but they walked out with 6 pieces, so it’s a good seller.

Photo: GrayWorks Design

You’ve been featured in a lot of places like Martha Stewart Living and O, The Oprah Magazine. How did that happen?
I had sold my product pretty successfully at crafts fairs but when I brought it to Etsy I had a friend who helped me with the photography and the copy. Etsy really responded to the effort and they gave us a featured seller position within 3 months of being on the site. After that they put publishers in touch with us. At first it was hard to tell what people were responding to. I think people were definitely responding to the good photography, but also the products that we’re making. They come from a place that I think resonates with a lot of people.

Photo: GrayWorks Design

These products are clearly very carefully made. What kind of place do you think handcrafted home goods have in today’s market?
One of the things I can’t do at this scale is offer a production line where I can make thousands of products at a time. I haven’t built that kind of a business. But what I can do is give a sense of luxury to the buyers. That luxury is really more about evoking a feeling; it’s more than just the primary function of the piece. These are products people can use daily that give them a feeling that they’re connected to nature.

I’m trying to offer these products at price points that are not exclusive. Handcrafted furniture can be much more expensive. But housewares are sort of this meeting ground that’s much more accessible. A lot of people can, at some point, comfortably afford to buy a $100 to $300 item for themselves or for others.

I like the idea of creating objects that can transform an entire room without the homeowner needing to redecorate everything. This is sort of how sculpture works. It augments everything else in the room but you don’t need 10 of them. One of them does the job.

Photo: GrayWorks Design

You show your work at craft shows in the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires. What kind of reaction does your work receive?
I do about six shows a year. What it does is it punctuates my year. I know a lot of these vendors, so I almost feel embarrassed if I show up with stuff I had the last time. I’m there to show people what I’m doing now, and I’m able to gauge the reactions I’m getting from people. A lot of times I make things that are sort of whimsical, but people get it right away.

hand carved bowl

Photo: GrayWorks Design

Have there been any surprises along the way?
The footed platte was a bit of a surprise. The first one I ever made was done on the fly for an art show to serve cheese and hors d’oeuvres. I actually gave the first ones to the couple that had put on the show. Then people kept asking me about them for the next year.

For a little while I was selling a 3-foot-long by 14-inch-wide footed platte. It got picked up by the Kitchn and they were calling it a polenta platter. I guess the idea is to pile a bunch of polenta on it, vegetables, meats off the grill—it’s an old Italian tradition to serve these meals on a wooden platter. There have been a few different things like that that have happened where I’ve worked on a design in isolation, brought it out into the world, and then people identify it for me.

Photo: GrayWorks Design

What’s ahead for GrayWorks Design?
For a while I was holding onto the idea of getting my architecture degree and trying to elevate myself in the design field. Over the last year some architects have reached out to me looking for accent pieces. Right now it feels like the architects in the design field are reaching down to me and lifting me up and bringing me into their world, which is really exciting. Every opportunity I get to collaborate with an architect is like going back to school. It’s a great way to pick up a lot of information quickly and learn about other possibilities.

Photo: GrayWorks Design

To see even more work from GrayWorks Design, check out their website and Etsy shop.