Old Made Anew - Decor: Two cousins make furniture by
by Karol V. Menizie, The Baltimore Sun, Home & Family, 8/14/2000
One recent day, Fife Hubbard was soundlessly carving naturalistic details in the ball-and-claw foot of one leg of a small dressing table, while his cousin, Crawford Hubbard, carefully painted carpenter's glue on the "breadboard" ends of a trestle table top.
They [the Hubbards] are committed to using the finest materials and workmanship, and the style in which they work is firmly planted in the New England and mid-Atlantic styles of two to three centuries ago. They create their own designs, and they make all their own patterns. They use old tools when it matters. They each work on one piece until it's complete.
When most people hear the word "custom," they think of kitchen or bath cabinets, or storage or entertainment units - and there are lots of companies making those. In most of these cases, "custom" means made to fit, not individually designed. The kind of work the Hubbards do, which often involves hours of intricate hand-carving, is quite different.
"That kind of [historic] craft tradition is very rare these days - a custom cabinetry that really is custom," says Mayer Rus, a former Baltimorean who is editor-in-chief of Interior Design magazine. "That hand-craft tradition seems to be gradually dying out." "It's not easy to make a successful business that way," he says, "which makes it all the more rare."
But the Hubbards find it works just fine. Clearly there's a keen artistic sense at work in both cousins - a fine eye for line and proportion. But they have a sense of how to manage their artisan enterprise.
"I could literally spend 40 hours on one of these," Fife says, lightly caressing the wooden palm muscles and tendons he has carved in the claw of a ball-and-claw foot. "But it's usually 7 to 10 hours."
Hubbard pieces are not inexpensive, but they are reasonable for the amount of work that goes into them.
Each of the early New England cabinetmaking shops had its own style, Fife Hubbard says. The Dunlap style features pieces that are both sturdy and exuberant, a tradition to which the Hubbards happily adhere. And one that their clients, living in a world of impersonal e-commerce and declining standards of service, can appreciate.
"It's very rare that you find anyone who takes so much interest in the piece," says Toni Griswold, who had the Hubbard firm build two pieces for her nearby home - a partner's desk for her husband and a front hall table. "They really want to please the client - it's [a trait that is] just so hard to come by these days." Griswold was touched that the Hubbards used wood from an old house near her home in the new furniture.
The Hubbards always work closely with clients to develop a design. They visit the home and check out the site of the proposed piece, and then submit sketches - sometimes many sketches. The process from design to delivery can take weeks or even months.
"There are three aspects to cabinetry," says long-time Baltimore County resident Dorsey Brown: "design, craftsmanship and finishing. All three are distinct and fine things that the Hubbards have mastered.""