Piecing It Together

Local Pair Creates Artistic Woodwork Using Reclaimed, Local Materials

Posted: December 13, 2013

Kurt Rosenberger (left) and Aaron Johnston work on a custom-made coffee table Dec. 9 at their small garage workshop in Harrisonburg. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
Kurt Rosenberger (back) and Aaron Johnston use pieces of reclaimed wood to craft custom-made tables. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
The designs of Kurt Rosenberger and Aaron Johnston’s custom-made tables are briefly planned out. (Photo by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
A small, red-brick garage on Third Street is alive with activity, having become a temporary exchange point where varyingly-sized cuts of wood enter and finished furniture exits.

But it’s not just practical woodwork finding its way out of the makeshift shop; it’s artwork.  

Early this week, two Harrisonburg residents, 34-year-old Aaron Johnston and 29-year-old Kurt Rosenberger, were inside, smoothing out the sides of a coffee table. As they worked together to slide the 3-by-2-foot slab across the table saw, a cloud of sawdust formed in the air; an aluminum bucket full of the stuff sat just outside the garage door.

Pieces of pine, walnut, white and red oak and poplar were a few of the shades of green — or, rather, brown, with a streak of blue paint — contained in the commissioned piece. The varying shades of wood ran parallel to each other on the slab, occasionally crisscrossing to form a geometric pattern that’s quickly becoming a trademark for the guys.

“We’re maybe more artists than woodworkers,” Johnston said. “We’re trying to incorporate our artistic talents into [the] furniture.”

The artists are gaining some traction thanks to a recent job for the Little Grill Collective; they created six tables — each boasting a different pattern created mostly with reclaimed scrap wood — for the downtown restaurant this fall. Soon after, they received a couple of phone calls, one of which ended in the coffee table piece they were working on this week.

 When asked if they had plans to make these artworks full-time, Rosenberger said, “Yeah, I think so. It doesn’t quite feel like that now. It’s an aggressive hobby.”

But he added that the guys are seeing “what kind of legs it can grow.”

About a year ago, Rosenberger and Johnston — who had been friends for years prior  — embarked on a much larger project than creating a coffee table. They built Johnston’s 1,400-square-foot, two-story house, which Johnston  designed himself.

“The focus on the house is on energy efficiency,” Johnston said, explaining that the guys are definitely keeping that concept in mind for current and future projects. The home is “net-zero ready,” meaning once solar panels are installed, it can produce as much energy as it uses.

Sustainability is certainly evident in their recent work. The majority of the wood they’ve been working with has been scrap pieces coming from friends’ projects and local saw mills, and the wood the guys have purchased has been locally harvested.

“This is out of the New Community Project house,” said Johnston, pointing to a streak of material in the coffee table.

Even before constructing his home, the guys were anything but newbies to woodworking. Johnston, who grew up in Salisbury, Md., started working in a family friend’s woodshop when he was 14.

“I’ve sort of done woodworking my whole life,” he said. “It’s sort of a natural thing to just be in a wood shop, both designing my own stuff and just …  the meditative experience of working with your hands.”

Rosenberger, who grew up in State College, Pa., has helped to build other homes in the central Valley, including what he called a “micro-cabin.” He used to work at the Shenandoah Bicycle Company downtown and helped with the build-out there.

“So much of peoples’ furniture comes from factories in China,” he said. “[This is] kind of a response to that. …  Kind of just closing the circle on our economy. Everything is hopefully going back to local, so whether that’s food or furniture, kind of knowing where your stuff’s coming from.”

Rosenberger and Johnston are interested in any projects, ranging creative carpentry and woodwork to design.

“We want to work with clients interested in unique and creative design, [whether that’s] building a table that’s a little different or building a house that’s unique,” Johnston said. Rosenberger added that they’re excited to have creative control of the process from mill — or scrap pile — to market.

For more information, visit littlegrilltables.tumblr.com or contact Johnston at aaronhjohnston@gmail.com or 236-8505.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or csipos@dnronline.com.