Furniture builder has eye for design
Michael Moran grew up in a house in which his father made most of the furniture. Family friends made many of the Morans' smaller household items, including dishes and decorative pottery. He learned early in life that when you need something, you make it.
Today, Moran makes furniture to meet many other people's needs. His motivation is a little different from that of his father, a framing carpenter-turned-psychiatrist. Moran has taken a family tradition and made it his life's work. But basically, they both go about producing the pieces they make the same way, by hand.
Moran is a furnituremaker and woodworker who produces custom pieces in the corrugated aluminum shed that serves as his workshop. Shipping containers at the Meeting Street Road location store his finished pieces along with some salvaged tree trunks that someday will be used for making furniture.
"My dovetails are hand-cut," Moran says. "Pieces made that way have a different character and personality."
Out back of the workshop, Moran shows off the garden where he grows bamboo and cantaloupe. It's where he takes breaks from working in the shop, where the small, air-conditioned finish room is the only space in which the temperature is ever controlled.
Moran works alone, allowing himself to be inspired by his fascination with the wood grain that nature gives trees. A design remains in his head until he has a fairly well-developed concept of how it can fit a client's needs. Then he commits the ideas to paper, where they become a tool for further discussion between Moran and the client. He guards against allowing the final designs to compete with the natural beauty of the wood.
"Growing up, I spent so much time in the woods with trees," says Moran, who uses mostly domestic hardwood trees that he says are harvested from sustainable forests. "I climbed about every tree you could imagine. The first thing I made was a wooden skateboard."
Moran, a Frankfurt, Ky., native who estimates that in six years he has made more than 150 pieces, never imagined that he would become a furnituremaker. But today he's filled with excitement about developing a handmade line of furniture as well as the prospect of working with clients who have asked him to make furniture for their new homes using trees that will be moved to build it.
"It's a good time and place," says Moran, who has spent six years at his trade. "Charleston has offered me some opportunities I can't imagine anywhere else."
In 1999, Moran arrived at the College of Charleston on a soccer scholarship to pursue an anthropology degree with an eye toward becoming an Egyptologist. About three years later, he left to play soccer in Groningin, Netherlands, but returned to Charleston less than a year later.
Back at the college, a friend introduced him to her future husband, Kirk Heidenreich, a local furnituremaker whose work he admired. Despite the fact that Moran had never even used a table saw, Heidenreich allowed him to apprentice at his Paradox Designs.
"We did everything with hand tools in Kentucky," Moran says.
In a few years, he was getting clients of his own and decided to open what would become "Michael James Moran Woodworked Furniture." Signing a two-year lease with three one-year options on a 1,500-square-foot Meeting Street Road space is the only thing that represented a firm commitment.
"I thought, this is what I enjoy. Let's see where it takes me."
Terry Fox, Art Institute of Charleston's director of student services, has commissioned pieces from Moran. He describes the furnituremaker as having an almost Zen approach to living that is calm and focused. It's evident in the way he relates to wood.
"He draws out the essences of the wood." Fox says. "You see the surfaces of his finished pieces being very natural. They may include bark from the tree and the natural contours of the tree as it has been cut. He also has a real natural eye for combining different types of wood, with different colors and different graining and have them work beautifully together."
Today, Moran is trying to develop a national market and recently hired a public relations agent in New York.
Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.