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Wood: It’s both her name and her preoccupation. But artist Whitney Wood took a circuitous route to her current creative destination. Though she’s formally trained in both art history and fine art, these days Wood is happiest at her studio, Achillea Design Co., crafting curvy hanging planters, chunky stump tables, and serving boards shaped like giant hands. She lives and works in the foothills, and her creations have been popping up in so many gorgeous homes and on so many stylists’ feeds we just had to learn more.
5280 Home: Tell us about your artistic background and what led you to working with wood.
Whitney Wood: During my time in art school and continuing after graduation, I used to make large-scale installations, only to realize that I didn’t want to pursue that path after having children. So, I’m teaching myself about designing functional objects. I think that having a background creating installations has been a good foundation.
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Oddly, I don’t really consider myself a woodworker. However, working in installation, I have always been around the wood shop. I was the “shop tech” in school and taught 3-D design. Conveniently, I got my grandfather’s old woodworking tools and have been putting them to good use. I use his scroll saw, router, and hand tools almost daily.
What inspires your designs?
Honestly, play. I love the problem-solving process of designing a new piece. The magic for me is in the balancing act between material limitations, functionality, and form. I experiment often and fail even more often. Most important to me is that I make pieces that have never been made before. Why make something if it already exists in the world? Also, materials: I am a modernist in the sense that I like to expose the natural beauty of the material.
How did you decide to build hanging planters?
It all started for weddings. Both of my brothers got married and my sisters-in-law asked me to design hanging pieces. The first one I made was very geometric—painted white and gold—and was an amazing contrast to the old barn the pieces were installed in. The hanging planters that I’m currently making were hung in a transparent outdoor tent. The wedding was in Kansas on an idyllic, manicured lawn with mature trees and had an almost Southern feel. I really wanted something with a softer feel that would mimic the landscape; to be whimsical and full of greenery. I truly started my business because I had 20 giant hanging planters that I didn’t know what to do with. People were asking if they were for sale, so I said, “Sure!”
Where do you source your materials?
All over! I have a garage full of stumps that I found on the side of the road, I buy hardwood at Austin Hardwoods in Denver, and I’ve been experimenting with steam-bending branches from my own yard.
Walk us through the process of making a hanging planter.
I start by cutting the form from plywood. (People often think they are bent—they are actually cut!) I started using a laser cutter for the curved form. They are then either burnt or hand-veneered. Then assembly, stain, and macramé.
You also make beautiful tables from tree stumps.
I call them “slow tables.” I found stumps on the side of the road down the street from my house—judging by the rings, the tree was approximately 76 years old. I let the stumps air dry for over a year. The walnut butterfly joints are hand-chiseled forms appropriated from antique Incan calendar weavings—symbols of time. The natural wax finish takes a month to cure. They were a process. I’ve been drying some very large stumps in my garage, so I have some giant ones coming soon.
What about your delightful hand-shaped cutting/serving boards?
I had been contemplating making boards for a while, but there are so many people making cutting boards out there! I just wanted to make something totally unique: A board that could double as a piece of art on the wall. Again, I love the theatrical and whimsical feel to them. Who can’t use a hand in the kitchen? I just started making them in November and they are already my best-seller!
Where are your pieces sold?
At Etsy and Meek Vintage in Denver for now, and I have some new exciting stockists and a website coming soon.
What else is next for you?
I’m actually redesigning the hanging planter (third time’s a charm!), and I am also working on lighting and a collection of wooden jewelry. My website will launch in March, and I am really stoked to show you all what I’ve been up to!