Most people sand the paint off salvaged wood. Artisan woodworker Michael Olfert, on the other hand, makes sure the paint stays on. “Most people look at old painted wood and think how they can sand off the paint, and I think more about the interesting color and how I can incorporate that into the furniture.”
“My dad was really handy,” says the Salem, Ore., native. “He built things such as food dryers, and we built tree houses together. He was inspirational in the way he could solve problems and build things himself instead of going out and buying them.”
Before he took up making furniture, Olfert worked as a professional photographer. Even while working as a photographer, he continued to build things. “If I had wood around, I’d imagine it could be something else, like a bench, and I’d make it,” he says. “I was also on a tight budget, so building stuff myself was a lot more economical way of getting furniture I needed.”
Now, instead of spending time in a darkroom, Olfert works in a Portland garage that he converted into a woodshop, creating with wood he finds at rebuilding and salvage shops. The bookshelf (right) was made from a large plank of blue wood and a post that already had holes drilled into it, which he turned into one side of the bookcase. The coffee table (below) is made of several pieces of colored wood. “Using color is a way to break up a piece and make it more interesting,” he says.
Olfert, who also makes outdoor structures and chicken coops, enjoys building pieces that have permanence. “If you build something, someone can use it for 10 or 20 years, and it can be an integral part of his or her life,” he says. The four-foot-tall bookshelf is $400; the 24-inch by 48-inch red and gray coffee table is also $400.
Contact woodworker Michael Olfert via his website at outsideup.com.