Owners of furniture made by Rochester resident Mark Hodel describe his work as timeless, unique, heirloom-quality, beautiful fine furniture. Ask Hodel, and he'll simply say, "it's a fun, serious hobby." And yet, they're all understating the exquisite, hand-crafted furniture created by the unpretentious Hodel.
Hodel, a nurse anesthetist at Memorial Medical Center, began making furniture 17 years ago using a combination of natural talent; an eye for line, color and style; and construction lessons his father taught him as a child. Since then, he has acquired the tools and skills to make just about anything anyone wants. Beautifully.
"I may make 20 pieces a year, maybe four," Hodel says of the beds, desks, cabinets and other pieces he has made for his own use and for others through the years.
His style is modern and functional, nearly always incorporating exotic, mixed woods, clean lines and more curves than hard lines. And, as much as possible, he leaves his work unpainted, unstained, unadorned.
"Nature's done a great job. It's up to me to bring out the beauty of the wood," he says.
Customers come to Hodel for various reasons. Sometimes, he says, they've seen something they like in a book or magazine, but it's the wrong size. Or, they have a general idea of what they want but can't find it. So, they talk over possibilities of woods, styles and details with Hodel, who then prices the materials and creates a preliminary design.
Much of the cost is in the wood, Hodel says. "People will hear prices and say, 'What are you making it out of, gold?' " But bubinga, wenge, spalted maple, mahogany, tiger maple, cocobolo and African lacewood can cost upward of four and a half times the price of commercially available maple, walnut and oak. So, you pay for the wood's uniqueness, as well as Hodel's time and top-quality finishing touches.
Hodel finishes his work with attractive pulls, smooth drawer glides, quiet wheels and more purchased from specialty shops that cater to high-end, professionally finished furniture. Hodel's kitchen, for example, features a rolling walnut-and-maple serving cart with wheels surrounded by rubber O-rings for silent, scratchless motion across the wood floor.
Another characteristic of Hodel's craftsmanship is mortise and tenon joints (wood pieces fitted together without screws or nails to secure the connection.)
"One of my favorite pieces is a bubinga and wenge swinging cradle I made for Amy Behrens about three years ago. All of the side rails are mortise and tenon and half-lapped."
Hodel and his wife, Alissa, collaborated on the design for their bed. It's an Asian-inspired platform bed with floating side tables made of tiger maple, lace wood, mahogany and spalted maple.
"The pattern in the spalted maple open headboard is created by fungus and worms," Hodel says of the unpainted wood he finished to highlight the wood's grain. "There's nothing production about what I do. It's all one of a kind."
Stephanie and Matthew Peecher of Springfield have purchased several pieces from Hodel, all of them, "very unique, high-quality, timeless," according to Stephanie.
Hodel describes one commission as "huge, floating shelves with a welded interior frame, some of the best work I've ever done."
"You cannot see anything holding them to the wall," says Stephanie. "They're beautiful."
The Peechers also have a solid-wood bed frame, a 12-by-4-foot solid wood farm-style kitchen table, children's bookshelves and more. "I would buy anything Mark makes," says Stephanie. "It's really good quality. These are pieces you'd be able to pass down to your children, probably on down multiple generations."
Friend and repeat customer J.L. Honey agrees.
"His furniture is completely perfect. You couldn't find a better craftsman and artisan ... (he) can take my idea and turn it into reality."
Honey also has purchased several pieces, as well as one of Hodel's latest projects - an art piece made of wood and layers of acid-etched gold, copper and silver leaf. Hodel made one to hang above the fireplace in his own living room and enjoys seeing the way light moves across it throughout the day.
Fine furniture. Acid-etched metals. Wooden boxes. Painting on canvas.
With an ever-growing list of artistic accomplishments, one wonders what's next for Hodel.
"I've never done anything with a lathe," he says.
Story published Friday, November 5, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 6 )