Randy Bader's evolution in woodworking went from cutting boards to cutting edge.
"After making cutting boards for Laguna's Sawdust Festival for five years, I decided I needed a plan to quit making them," said Bader, who had also been selling and designing custom furniture on the side. "After nine years, I decided to make only enough cutting boards to last six weeks, which would give me money to live on. After that, I would only do furniture."
It would mean a loss in income, but the Laguna Beach artist knew he could survive, especially with the help of his wife, Mary, a social worker.
So with that decision eight years ago, Bader was on his way to making a living specializing in creating sensuous, curvilinear furniture that often looks as if it's suspended in air.
"When it comes to furniture, the only furniture I've ever done is mine," said Bader, who turned down jobs, even in the lean years, that would have required him to duplicate other designers' work.
"It's very rare that someone says my furniture designs remind them of another artist's. I think that's because I combine elements that other people don't normally use. I like to think of my designs as jewelry for the home. The lines are like brooches and pendants. They are both beautiful and functional."
Bader admits to being influenced by his father, an aerospace engineer whose projects in the late 1950s gave a young Bader an understanding of rocket and spaceship shapes. Those structures, as well as buildings and bridges, impacted his designs.
But there is also a softer side to Bader's work, which he attributes to his mother.
"The flowing, more sensual lines in my furniture come from my mother. I realized that after I watched my 4-year-old son, Nathan, with his mom. I remembered that I got a lot of that [awareness] from my mom."
His Laguna Beach home is a showcase of his work. He has created bookshelves with tops that resemble skylines, chests of drawers that balance gracefully on one leg and dining room chairs that are noteworthy wood sculptures in their own right.
"A lot of people won't tackle chairs because they create a lot of 'dead warriors.' You can't test a chair until it's completely done. And then it's too late," Bader said, laughing.
The process he went through to create rocking chairs illustrates his point. The first one's seat was too high, the arms too low and the back slats uncomfortable. For the next one, he added a slat to the back, raised the arms 1 1/2 inches, lowered the rocker 1 1/2 inches and raised the back. Today his rocking chairs are the correct proportions and crafted from quilted maple.
"Most of my furniture designs have evolved over the years, so if someone asked me to replicate some of my earlier work I probably couldn't do it. I even use different, better, tools today," he said.
Bader's two-story workshop on Laguna Canyon Road is full of state-of-the-art equipment and various pieces of wood. In one room are half-finished chairs and tables that lie on the floor like wooden puppets ready to come to life when the master pulls the strings.
"It takes one month to make a chair, although most of the work is done in the first week to 10 days. The rest of the time is needed for sanding, assembling and oiling the wood. I only use oil, no stains," he said. "I prefer to use domestic hardwoods because I think they're so beautiful."
He donates leftover wood pieces to local high school wood-shop classes and recycles the wood shavings into mulch.
"I know I'm using a resource--wood--that many people say shouldn't be used, but I conserve as much as possible. I'm a maniac when it comes to laying out my wood pieces. I try to do it as someone would lay out patterns for clothes, tying things together as much as possible. But once you start curving things, it gets very hard."