Kagen Schaefer crafts complex wooden puzzles. But when he started working on his magnum opus, he almost got lost in his own creation.
This month, Schaefer plans to load the pieces of the six-foot-long puzzle desk into a van and drive it across the country to the filmmaker’s house in New York City, where he’ll assemble it on-site. He expects the delivery to be bittersweet: The desk required four years of his time, $10,000 of materials, and nearly his sanity. He had to buy new tools to fashion it and learn new skills to master the art of designing a musical instrument—one, no less, that was a functional piece of furniture. He charged the filmmaker the price of a “nice car” for the desk, but considering the time and expenses, it’s not clear whether Schaefer broke even on the project.
Today, Schaefer’s started working on projects for other clients, including a “Cafe Wall Table” (a credenza-type table with interlocking puzzles), and a series of “Lotus Tables” (circular tables with drawers that open up like flowers). His website (kagenschaefer.com) is loaded with a new inventory, and on First Fridays, his Ironton shop fills with art walkers trying out his puzzles and admiring the beautiful slabs of wood he stores for his projects. He’s created enough space between his work and his life that come evening, he can leave his projects on his bench and head out to bowl, dance, and socialize.
The filmmaker’s desk, though, is never far from his thoughts. When he starts a new project, or is mired in an old one, it bubbles up as inspiration and a warning. “Creating the desk was like having a strange dream at night,” Schaefer says. “And then I spent years trying to turn that dream into a tangible, functional, and beautiful reality.”
Eleanor Perry-Smith is a Denver-based freelance writer. Email her at email@example.com.