(Above: Rob & Larissa and their Bailey Console Cabinet)
Rob Spiece and Larissa Huff’s trajectory into woodworking came at different times and for different reasons but through one unlikely path. Craigslist. Yes, you read that right, and Rob and Larissa say that people get a kick out of that part of their story. Each answered an ad to be an apprentice for the noted woodworker and furniture maker Jeff Lohr. Rob started in 2006 while Larissa joined in 2012. Neither had done woodworking to speak of – Larissa was a math teacher in Florida who had moved to Philly and was seeking something new, and Rob was a film and media arts graduate from Temple University looking for something new and different that would tap into his creative background.
(Above: Number 112 Chest of Drawers)
Learning from the best set them both on a road to becoming award-winning artists in their own right, including receiving the Wharton Esherick Museum Prize for Excellence in Wood at the 2020 Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show. This came as a welcome surprise to this woodworking team, as 2020 was their first year exhibiting at the show, and what an unusual year it was, needless to say. Though Rob and Larissa have only experienced the PMA Craft Show in the virtual sense, they understand its long legacy and how meaningful it is to be part of it. They said they don’t ever win anything so it was very exciting. “Your show is very prestigious and artists have been taking part for decades so I consider us new even though we have 10+ years experience”, says Rob. “And the award being from the Wharton Esherick Museum has a lot of meaning as his work inspires a lot of what we do. Esherick seems like someone we would have been friends with if we lived at the same time.”
(Above: Cosgriff Chair)
Rob and Larissa collaborate on each piece and their work is painstakingly crafted and exquisitely designed using time-honored woodworking techniques. Often starting by creating a small-scale model, this allows them to see the piece ahead of time, understand how the materials look and feel together, and yes, brings Larissa’s math background into play, inherently crafting ratios and proportions culminating in beautifully balanced pieces.
Pivoting to a virtual show environment may not have been by choice, but Rob and Larissa have done it seamlessly. They were already doing a great job with their online presence, and upped their game in 2020, knowing how important imagery and maintaining a professional online presence would be, perhaps more than ever. Though the pandemic forced them to reexamine show scenarios, they also saw an opportunity and necessity in the moment, to create fresh video content and increase their social media footprint. Larissa says, “It encouraged us to think more creatively about video content, and make it fun and informative. We did a lot of that this past year. The ‘virtualness’ of all of it has actually given us more time to make furniture, since we’re in the studio more, while at the same time also being productive in our marketing.”
(Above: Sofa detail)
Their shop and studio is located on a 13-acre farm in Schwenksville, PA, about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia. They also operate a woodworking school on site, and have been able to continue in-person classes following CDC guidelines for Covid safety. Their mentor, Jeff Lohr founded the studio over 30 years ago, along with the sustaining support of his wife, Linda. They built the property, the shop, and the culture that thrives to this day. Jeff’s inspiration is steeped in the Arts & Crafts movement. He stepped back in 2016 but still works on projects. Rob and Larissa found their true calling as fine furniture makers, and with Jeff and Linda’s blessing, became partial owners of Lohr Woodworking in 2017.
Asked what their advice would be for emerging artists, Rob and Larissa referred to other aspects of the business in addition to the specific skills of their craft. Larissa brought up community and how artists support one another, talking about their businesses, and so on, while Rob spoke about putting your best foot forward, being real about what you’re doing, and, taking great photos. In closing, Rob and Larissa share that their greatest influence is Jeff Lohr and the way he taught them. It influences everything they do, from creating to teaching. What an inspiration that is to both the buyers of their work and the future students who take part in the Lohr Woodworking School.