Quebec-based furniture maker Chris de Champlain on design, joinery and staying away from the “flavour of the month.”
Q & A with Chris de Champlain
How long have you been building furniture?
10 years; professionally for five.
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
I don’t consider myself to have a particular style that I adhere to. I work based on customer specifications and add my personal flair to each piece.
If you were not a furniture maker what would you be?
I would have gravitated towards stock broker.
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
6″ square, Lie Nielsen block plane, 0.9mm mechanical pencil.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
Healthy mix of both in every project. I enjoy both for what they offer each project and workflow.
Solid wood or veneer?
I love the challenges and options that come with both.
Figured wood or straight grain?
I love both equally.
Inherited Vintage Stanley Sweetheart or fresh-out-of-the-box Veritas?
Neither. Lie-Nielsen! I have their entire lineup.
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
Quartersawn white oak and walnut.
Least favourite wood?
Chris de Champlain
Paper Cord Bench
This black walnut bench was joined with angled mortise and tenon joints, and features laced paper cord and Danish L-nails. De Champlain made this bench as a wedding gift for his friend.
Curly Maple Desk
This desk, with hand carved circular patterns on its front, includes 108 hand-cut dovetails. The legs and rails were hand-shaped with spokeshaves and rasps before being tenoned into the underside of the top.
Quotes from Chris de Champlain
Despite a size that would make some professional woodworkers question my choice, my studio is fully functional with everything I need for custom work. In 2019 I closed down my larger rental shop when I moved to a new house. The original plan was to add an extra 1400 sq. ft. as a separate shop space on my new property, but then the pandemic hit and with it, steep prices on building materials. For the time being I’ve put my new shop plans on hold.
I’m definitely not a morning person. My average work day will start around 9 or 10 a.m., depending on how late I worked the night before. I’ll often be in the shop until 2 or 3 a.m. When I’m in my shop, I am always on the go. My workdays are spent working, my rest days are spent resting. I’m straightforward like that.
I love to window shop for inspiration by walking in different neighbourhoods, both new and old, both locally and internationally.
What’s interesting to me is different forms and elements that important woodworkers’ and artisans have incorporated into their work, rather than the entire piece itself.
I tend to stay away from anything that is “the flavour of the month” in furniture design.
If a client asks to me to build something that can be found all over the internet, I will work with them on their design so that it is built to last and has an heirloom quality to it so it not only will stay together for many generations but will also look good in the space for just as many generations.
Always design first and figure out how you’re going to build it second. There are always 10 solutions for every problem.
To me, cutting a proper, perfectly fitting joint is a rite of passage as a woodworker that connects us as craftspeople. Traditional wood joinery connects us to our past as a profession and to overlook that is to take depth, creativity and tradition from the profession as a whole.
As time progresses, I’m hoping to take on more challenging projects. I don’t want to get comfortable. When you’re comfortable, creativity stagnates.
I think social media has done a great job at promoting makers, whether that’s with wood, metal, cord or code. I see a bright future for making. But getting into the profession of woodworking? That’s going to be more difficult in the future. A lot of makers spend more time recording videos than they do making sawdust.
Using proper joinery for the task at hand is misunderstood by many woodworkers.
Some of my favourite Canadian and international makers are Hans J. Wagner, Craig Thibodeau, Peter Galbert, Michael Fortune, Silas Kopf, Theo Cook, Adrian Ferrazzutti and Karen McBride
Overcoming and adapting is part of woodworking.
Try not to repeat the exact same design twice, even if someone wants something similar.
Integration of different materials in projects will likely change over the coming years.
People are thinking outside of the box more than they ever have.
Some want the Eiffel Tower but have a budget for a woodshed.