{Meet the} Makers: Rustic Elegance

Sarah McCartan | inweekly.net

November 13, 2013

By definition, the term “make” means “to cause to exist or happen; bring about; create.”

While making in this day and age is farmed out in a multitude of different directions, there are still makers who keep their hands deep and dirty in the process. Makers who keep their hearts full as they fine-tune their craftsmanship.

You can find many of these makers with their work showcased at markets, festivals, and sometimes even storefronts. Others may require that you enter into the depths of their studio. Some make strictly as hobby or for the sake of the art, others for business, or their entire livelihood.

The following three makers represent individuals performing their trade as full-time endeavors—makers whose end products are just as diverse as their personalities, creative processes, and physical workspaces.

These end products include furniture constructed out of century old reclaimed wood born out of a warehouse space and delivered to customers; architectural ceramics coming to life within a garage studio and driveway kiln; and designer and customized jewelry creations showcased in an immaculate, plush storefront.

If there is one—or a few—things each of these makers have in common, it’s the abundant enthusiasm for their trade, a steadfast commitment to quality and precision, dedication to local and sustainable sourcing, and of course, making each and every piece count.

“Do you smell that?” asked Joe Sinkovich when I walked up to the lumberyard where Armored Frog’s reclaimed wood furniture creations are born.

The distinct strong aroma confirmed these stumps to be deadhead Cyprus unearthed from the river depths, where they have been preserved for multiple centuries.

A history buff by nature, two years ago, the unveiling of ancient heart pine in his own 1918 home amidst a restoration process led Sinkovich to a newfound passion—old growth wood designs. As a result, he left 22 years of constructing orthopedic implants and began cutting wood.

In essence, the two surfaces “breathe” the same way he explained. “Bone expands and contracts. Wood expands and contracts. Cutting bone and cutting wood is ironically the same equipment.”

His woodwork started with planter boxes, working with Cyprus, cedar, and heart pine—woods that are rot and rust resistant, providing an “armor” of sort.

“What animal do you want in your garden to eat bugs?” he asked me. “Frogs.”

And so, Armored Frog was born.

Recognizing a niche for reclaimed wood furniture, he quickly expanded his craft to larger-scale, high end pieces including a range of tables, desks and stools, and even mirrors, frames and flooring.

“We started in the garage, moved into my sunroom, and then moved in here all within a year. Now we’re getting ready to expand again,” he said.

While many of his clients are spread across the Gulf Coast, extending to Destin and along the beaches of 30-A, Armored Frog pieces are also housed in locations from New York to San Francisco.

Sinkovich pulled out his phone to show me a photo of a massive, what appeared to be bullet-proof non-destructible, shipping container housing a seven foot table. “It represents what you’re getting inside—a piece of artwork,” he said.

These artistic furniture creations typically begin with a phone call request, met with Sinkovich’s follow up question, “What’s your budget?” Sinkovich works with each client, in 99 percent of cases, through a designer, to arrive at a custom piece made of the highest quality rare wood.

One particular dining room table I laid eyes on included heart pine from a 1937 home interspersed with boards from the year supply of lumber Sinkovich keeps on hand.

When it comes to sourcing for this reclaimed multi-century old hardwood, Sinkovich mentions cases of calling a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy. “I just find it,” he said.

And naturally, he teams up with those who extract sunken logs from rivers, bogs and the likes. “Have you seen the show ‘Swamp People’?” he asked me.

Due to the nature of the ancient wood, if stored and cared for properly, the furniture pieces will outlive their owners, making them lifelong investments.

Sinkovich compares buying furniture to buying a Porsche.

“Anybody can go to a retail store and buy a piece of furniture that is beautiful. Anybody can buy a new Porsche. Not everybody can buy a 1973 911 Porsche. You have to find it, make sure it’s in good shape, and take care of it.”

Each Armored Frog piece is built like an antique, using old world joints assembled with new world materials. Screws, glues and finishes aside, everything is constructed in the warehouse.

And because Sinkovich and his team of craftsmen are perfectionists, the quality control is impeccable, and nothing is sent out without 100 percent approval.

“Every product is signed and numbered so that we know who did it and when it was done. And there’s our signature sanding and hand waxing on the bottom,” he said.

Not only does Sinkovich put time and care into each custom piece, he gets to experience a feeling of reward when he sees expressions of satisfaction.

“To watch their eyes and see how proud they were to have taken the time to find us, help design it with their designer—I get pictures from people all the time telling me ‘thank you.’”

“For us the sign of success is repeat customers. It means clients liked it and appreciated it,” he said. The more who see these pieces, the higher the demand, and so the process continues.

A businessman by nature, Sinkovich offers a bit of advice to those who seek to make a living out of making functional art.
“Do very little,” he said. “Pick one or two things to be good at and then execute them very well. Don’t spread yourself too thin.”

Taking his own advice, Sinkovich doesn’t do just any old construction project, nor does he whip up basic cabinets or shelves, or do installations.

While the bulk of his pieces are custom work, Sinkovich keeps spec tables and other furniture items on hand for the purchasing, including his latest and greatest stump stools.
“All we do is make the best furniture you’ve ever seen,” he said with a smile. “That’s all we do.”

Hannah McLeaishInweekly