Highland Woodworking Wood News Online, No. 175, March 2020Welcome to Highland Woodworking - Fine Tools & Education Learn more about Highland Woodworking View our current woodworking classes and seminars Woodworking articles and solutions Subscribe to Wood News
Women in Woodworking - Meet Hannah Rogal
By Char Miller-King
Atlanta, GA

This month's feature is a different approach than my other articles. I typically focus on woodworkers who run their own small businesses or blogs. While there are many one-woman shops out there, there are also collaborative studios where the woman runs the shop and one of those studios is Boulder Furniture Arts (BFA), located in Boulder, Colorado. Hannah Rogal is the Design Lead of BFA, which is a modern contemporary furniture studio that specializes in made to order shaker style furniture. Hannah is the glue behind the 35-year company, which began with local woodworker, Lee Nemerowicz and five fellow makers who identified a need for fine hardwood furniture with a client to craftsperson pipeline. BFA was then born and is one of the oldest local businesses in Boulder. The staff is composed of nine people who are dedicated to the success of the company and work hard to remain a small shop that consistently produces quality furniture. Designed to work with the flow of nature, Boulder Furniture Arts believes in the sustainability of the planet and focuses on zero waste and finishes with little to no VOCs.

While much of the staff is dedicated to making, Hannah handles the front office design work and client relationships. Growing up in Massachusetts with Pennsylvania Dutch roots, heirloom furniture was commonplace and Hannah even studied fine arts history in school, so moving into her current field was a natural progression. During a summer trip to Colorado in 2011, she stumbled upon BFA and was enamored with the beauty and craftsmanship. She told the gentleman working at the front desk she wanted to be involved with what they were doing; within a week she was an employee and that man is now her husband.

Hannah now manages all of the design work for BFA's clients and visits her clients' homes to take precise measurements for each piece, carefully taking into account any access obstructions such as maneuvering pieces up a flight of stairs. The process typically begins with a client provided Pinterest board, sketch, and sometimes a drawing on a napkin. Hannah mainly uses SketchUp to bring the vision to life and more recently some of the design school graduates she works with use Rhino.

As the bridge between the makers and her customers, Hannah has to take many things into account, such as recommending the best wood species for the project, thickness of the final project, and which handles and adjustable feet would be suitable. Once the design is approved, it's go time for the guys in the shop. As the only woman on the team, Hannah ensures she gets the respect she deserves and steers clear of becoming the "den mother."

Before becoming the Design Lead at BFA, Hannah created her own pieces for clients. Her claim to fame which makes her perfect for her work are her "big eyes." She sees the symmetry in everything and is a self-proclaimed "geek" on the subject of wood. Her first piece was a shelving unit made to display a clients' collection of erotic artwork. It was composed of maple and walnut with mortise and tenon joinery as well as pocket screws.

One of the pieces Hannah is most proud of designing is a large quarter-sawn white oak living room cabinet made from 100% solid oak and spanned a width of over eight feet. The cabinet includes a sideboard section frame and panel doors with a small bank of drawers for guitar picks and remotes. It also has a three column section of glass shelves and lighting for pottery and display pieces and of course space for a television. The television area has the option to be covered with sliding barn wood doors, complete with barn wood door hardware. The doors contain stained leaded glass. Not much of the work BFA does requires the involvement of so many different craftspeople and material, but here they worked with steel, glass, and stained glass. It's safe to say they deemed this project the "Piece de Resistance."

Boulder Furniture Arts has tapped into a unique market since a majority of the community telework and are in need of fine furniture that will last. Over forty percent of the business is repeat clientele whether it's baby boomers who recently became empty nesters or millennials who simply enjoy the finer things in life. When Hannah makes a promise, she delivers, all the way down to premium wood selection.

BFA has a close relationship with several saw mills and kiln drying services in the area. The number one wood choice for them is cherry, followed by walnut as it's a bit more difficult to finish. Besides, in Colorado you can purchase flamed or figured cherry for half the price of walnut. All the lumber they use is imported since the native aspen trees are akin to balsa wood, very fragile when it comes to sturdy furniture. Selecting the best wood is key to the happiness of the client and the success of the business, which is why Hannah looks for lumber with little to no sapwood or knots and a consistent grain pattern. This is especially important when making drawer fronts, it's ideal when each panel matches its neighbor.

Ultimately, the client decides, as each project is shopped for individually. The shop does not keep lumber on hand for projects. The only lumber you will find is what is on display in the showroom. Most smaller scraps get composted and larger pieces are turned into a smaller project or donated to local schools and the maker community.

For the best consistency over the years, BFA has used hand rubbed tung oil varnish. That way they know every piece can be refinished to the client's specifications if needed.

The end result you get from BFA is a timeless, classic piece of furniture, built with care by people who support the beauty of nature, with Hannah at the helm to keep it all together.

You can learn more about Hannah and Boulder Furniture Arts by visiting them at http://www.boulderfurniturearts.com/. You can also follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

You can check out Char's website at https://www.thewoodenmaven.com/ and follow her on Instagram at @woodenmaven.

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