What combines utility, sleek lines, impeccable quality, function and individuality? What’s sturdy yet delicate?
Custom-made wood furniture by oral surgeon Walt Myers. Myers, a native of Queens, N.Y., is retired after practicing dentistry in Midtown for 34 years while mastering his woodworking hobby.
Myers’ home, built in 1918, was reconstructed after a devastating fire. Walt and artist wife Barbara showcase his handcrafted furniture as a complement to their stately finds.
In keeping with tradition, the effect is polished yet livable and never pompous. It dovetails charmingly with Midtown’s Ansley Park.
Jaffe: How does an oral surgeon get intrigued by furniture making?
Myers: It’s been my hobby for 23 years, when I first took a course at Atlanta College of Art, where they let us loose on a project and I got hooked.
Actually, woodworking is similar to dentistry. … Woodworking helped my surgery as well as the reverse. Especially things like bone grafts. The body heals if you make a little mistake. Wood is less forgiving.
Jaffe: What types of wood do you use?
Myers: Mostly cherrywood, but also walnut, poplar, heart pine, mahogany, oak and occasionally parrot wood. And chestnut, which is hard to locate. Chestnut has a very wormy appearance due to a blight killing over a billion trees. My inlaid veneers are around one-sixteenth of an inch. I use cypress for outdoor furniture.
Working with wood is fascinating because of its natural irregularities and maneuvering that to an aesthetic advantage. So you see the real waves and imperfections of an organic thing. It’s not accidental how many of the panels fit together or contrast directionally. You see in better-made pieces that angles and edges change.
Jaffe: How would you describe your style?
Myers: I use a great deal of Shaker styles: clocks, stools, chests of drawers, trundles, fireplace mantels, computer desks, triangular corner pieces, armoires with raised panels and various built-ins. Many of my pieces have tapered legs. On occasion, I do a Southwest Mission style, like my cherry bed. My stacking tables are one of my favorite projects and my own design.
I would say that I am basically self-taught and use the “Woodsmith” program.
Jaffe: How has wife Barbara enhanced the total interior design?
Myers: She is THE designer here. Her blue-and-white 18th and 19th century transferware collection (depicting tranquil gardens, birds, bridges and pavilions), the light fixtures and furniture showcase her own original paintings, like this “Portrait at the Piano.”
She’s even been known to pick up a treasure at a garage sale.
Jaffe: What are some of the most elaborate things you have made?
Myers: The walnut master bedroom four-poster frame was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It was the most difficult by far. I had to construct a special jig in order to create the tapered, eight-sided posts. Also in the master bedroom are my dressing table and highboys.
Jaffe: How long does it take to craft a piece?
Myers: Around 30 hours for something moderately simple. Remember, there are no screws. Connecting points are mortise-and-tenon joints (male and female).
The gargantuan oak entertainment center had to be broken down and hoisted in with a ladder in several units for me to reconstruct once inside the upstairs media room. That was a hundred-hour project.
Jaffe: I love all your critters (Howie and Corky). What are your other hobbies?
Myers: You mentioned pets because I constructed a pharmacy cabinet and nearby dog/cat food treat server. My motto is “If you can’t buy it, you can build it!”
I am learning classical folk guitar. I finger-pick and do not strum.
I also am a volunteer at the Ben Massell Dental Clinic, which does such meaningful work for the community. I teach the senior dental students and residents.
I also hike or swim daily and play the acoustic guitar and sing.
I am a screener for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.
Jaffe: What is the most sentimental thing you have made?
Myers: I just completed this chess set for my granddaughter’s bat mitzvah. It is square and dovetailed. See my message to her carved on the bottom. I have four children and seven grandchildren, who call me “Poppa Waltie.”
Jaffe: Your deck/pool area is very special. What did you create out here?
Myers: I built the pale-blue Adirondack chairs overlooking the pool, the dark round deck table; but the most fun are the rolling chaise longues and English bench.
Jaffe: Where does all the construction take place?
Myers: I used to have a big studio in the North Carolina mountains. Then I had commercial space in Midtown. So rather than move again, everything now is set up in my basement. I even have spare pieces stored in the attic.
Jaffe: Leave us with some parting wood words.
Myers: When you make it yourself, you can angle things to fit any space and never doubt the quality. I like exacting standards yet am full of surprises.