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Hooker & Co.

Actor-turned-woodworker repurposes New York City structures as classic furniture

by John Ortved in Design on 16 February 2011

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At just over 350 years old, New York's identity—as both a relatively young city globally and as one of the oldest U.S. cities—makes the quest to possess a slice of its past rival even that for the hot new thing. Enter furniture designer Jesse Hooker. The former actor builds custom tables, mirrors and seating using reclaimed wood from those structures—the Central Park Stables, for example—that helped define one of the greatest modern metropolises.

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Hooker, the son of a potter and a painter, grew up in Wisconsin and has been woodworking since he was 12, restoring wooden boats from the WWII era. When the now 30-year-old moved to New York in 2005 to act, he took odd woodworking jobs, like building gyrotonic exercise equipment, or "Hippie Bowflex torture machines" as he calls them.

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After a friend saw a trestle table Hooker had built for himself and payed $1,500 for Hooker to build him his own, Hooker started taking commissions in 2008. Others saw the friend's table and wanted their own; his dining room tables caught on similarly. Built from the remnants of a Queens bowling alley, Hooker constructs their frames from simple angled iron welded together (with exceptional attention to detail), which he then hand paints.

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"It always starts with the materials," says Hooker, surrounded by ancient wood in his studio. "Someone will ask for a commission and I'll go to salvage and start working around whatever I pick out."

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Hooker's craftsmanship is immaculately simple, yet having a piece of his furniture isn't just an aesthetic experience, it's a connection to a bygone New York City's older aspects of manufacturing and design. "I like the history of the materials," he continues. "Those beams over there, some guys with handsaws and nails used them to erect a building, and then years later it's all torn down to make room for steel and glass condos. But you can have a piece of that history. You can have some of that workmanship."

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