Jonathan Boyd, Woodworker & Owner of Boyd & Allister
We found Jonathan Boyd on Instagram a few months ago and followed along as he posted updates from his house redesign. We were attracted to his handmade furniture for its simple silhouettes and contemporary design, which stood out against the backdrop of Southwestern style furniture seen around Santa Fe. Curious about his story, we reached out to Jonathan and he graciously invited us over to a dinner party before the official interview. We met at his newly-renovated house, which used to be his workshop, that he had decked out in beautiful wood finishes, one-of -a-kind wood furniture pieces, and lush plants (but of course I forgot to take my camera -- you'll have to check out his Instagram page for peeks inside his beautiful home). The next day we met Jonathan at his workshop and spoke with him while he made a pair of beehives for his garden. We were seriously impressed by his meticulous attention to detail, as well as the story of how his handmade furniture company came to be.
SFF: Where are you from and what originally brought you to Santa Fe?
JB: I grew up in Bucks County Pennsylvania, about an hour outside of both Philadelphia and New York City, in Pennsylvania farmland. I went to a really small high school there and one of my teachers told me about St. John’s College. I was 16 when I dropped out of high school, came to Santa Fe, and enrolled.
SFF: What made you decide to stay in Santa Fe after you graduated?
JB: I was planning on leaving Santa Fe to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris after St. John’s. I actually worked as a private chef through college, which paid for my life at the time. When I was in Annapolis for St. John’s I got to work on sailboats as a chef and did a couple transatlantic journeys. But before I left for Paris, I met a man who was building the cafe at Plants of the Southwest, and I decided to hang out for a weekend and help him. I loved building with adobe, so I told him I’d stay until the building was completed, and I cancelled my Le Cordon Bleu plans. I ended up traveling around the state of New Mexico rebuilding with him for three years. After that I needed money, because you don’t make much money doing rebuilding, so I started a real estate investment company in Santa Fe. I made enough money in real estate that I didn’t have to work for a bit, so I started to make furniture in my garage. I taught myself woodwork by committing to work outside of my comfort level and then figuring out how to do it.
SFF: Had you ever made furniture before?
JB: No. My green building experience included some carpentry, but it’s definitely different from furniture. I enjoyed working with wood, so I decided to hone my craft. My friendship with the owner of Sachi Organics, a natural bedding company, blossomed into me developing a line of bed frames for his store. We were selling a fair number of them and I grew from there. Through trial and error I developed a certain design aesthetic and trained my eye to know the proportions and shapes that I find desirable. I then developed the technical skills to create those designs. My education at St John’s taught me how to learn, and furniture design and building became another exercise in that practice.
SFF: Are most of your clients in Santa Fe?
JB: I do have a number of clients in Santa Fe, but most of my larger clients are out of town. I did a lot of work for Roman & Williams on their guild store in Soho, and I’m now exploring working with Intelligentsia Coffee on a few projects nationally.
SFF: How do clients find you?
I’m fortunate enough to have happy clients and so all of my clients have come to me by word of mouth. In fact I have never done any marketing, ever.
SFF: Who is the Allister of Boyd & Allister?
JB: That’s my business partner Damian. He’s been my business partner for the past seven years, but is leaving Santa Fe and moving to Vermont. I’ve known him since I was five. We grew this business together and tackled so many projects as a team. I think it would have been just about impossible to start this business entirely by myself. It’s inspiring having a dialogue with somebody else who spends day in and day out making things, because they have a similar understanding of what it means to create. We share a language. It’s fascinating to see what he decides to do and how he decides to do it. Things are definitely changing now that he’s leaving. But I will definitely keep the name Boyd and Allister and I will definitely keep building furniture in Santa Fe. There are some exciting changes and opportunities coming up so stay tuned…..
SFF: I really love the stove over in the corner and those hanging lights.
JB: I built that stove. It’s a fifty-five gallon oil drum and a $40 kit. I just cut a hole in the drum and screwed it on. You could make that yourself. The lights I got in Tesuque. There was nothing in this building when I moved in. I put the electrical on the walls and wired the whole building. There was no heat and raw cinder block everywhere. The building had great bones and a lot of potential, but required a lot of work.
SFF: I saw on your website that you also do weaving?
JB: Yes, I weave and I knit. I’ve actually been knitting a lot longer than I’ve been woodworking. I started in college because I thought it would be great if I could make my own pants. I didn’t know that you don’t knit pants. I thought that’s how you make fabric. I didn’t know. That was funny!
SFF: Did you end up making the pants?
JB: No. The first thing I made was a big blanket, and now I knit all my socks and a lot of socks for other people. And then I got into weaving as well.
SFF: Tell me about the house you’re working on.
JB: There are two houses on my property. What I love about the property is that the original house, built in the 1950s, belonged to a woodworker and I converted his old workshop into my current home which I built over the past year. For eight years I lived in the original house and built all the furniture specifically for that house. Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style was the inspiration for the work in that house.That was me, also, learning as I was going. But my new house is more me as an accomplished woodworker. I love everything in it.
SFF: What do you like about Santa Fe?
JB: I like being able to be out in the woods, even though I’ve been too busy in the last two years to take a day off. Since all my construction habits got going, my life’s been kind of insane, but I would like to go hike more. In college I was in search & rescue, so I got to know a lot of the mountains around here. The Ski Basin is right there, which has so many great trails where you can just take off and go. I also love the Santa Barbara Trailhead, halfway between here and Taos on the high road. We went there last year for a day hike, but I haven’t been out in the woods since then which is kind of a shame. I literally work every day. All the time.
SFF: You really don’t go out at all?
JB: I used to go out, but now I don’t, because I have a girlfriend and I’m busy with work. I used to go to the St. Francis. I like sitting at Tonic occasionally, and I used to go to the bar at La Posada to read. I read a lot of old writers. When I was at St. Johns I read all the classics, but I feel like I didn’t do them justice in school, so I’ve spent my life re-reading them. Nina and I have taken to reading together at bedtime which is nice. But I do love it here. If I lived in any other place I would not be doing what I’m doing right now.
SFF: Why do you say that?
JB: The ability to have such low overhead in the beginning of my business was essential, and people are really supportive in this town if you’re a young person doing something.
SFF: Tell me who some of your furniture design influencers are.
JB: Wharton Esherick, Jean Prouve, George and Mira Nakashima, James Krenov. Wharton Esherick’s devotion to craft and his sensibility with materials is endlessly inspiring. Jean Prouve was a mid century production designer but his sense of proportion and shape was so refined. I love transferring that aesthetic into fine furniture. George Nakashima really pioneered the aesthetic of slab furniture and I appreciate the juxtaposition of refined furniture with the organic beauty of a tree. And James Krenov for his devotion to the craft of woodworking and his timeless and methodical techniques.
SFF: Who else has inspired you in your life?
JB: From the age of 11 I worked on a farm with a man named Bob Griffith. He was my earliest mentor and he taught me how to work with and appreciate the physical world, in contrast to the intellectual world. He taught me the joy and satisfaction of working with your hands. He was an engineer and he taught me how to think like a builder. I still visit him every year on his farm and I continue to learn from him.
SFF: That’s great. You really seem dedicated to spending the time to perfect your craft.
JB: I’m a perfectionist and I want things to be amazing. I can’t imagine putting my effort into something if I wasn’t striving for it to be the best I could do.