ABOVE: Having long admired a large English-influenced cupboard they found in a reprint of Gustav Stickley’s 1902 Things Wrought by the United Craft, Steve and Mary Ann Voorhees drew up their own interpretation.
An abiding appreciation for the period's antiques led this couple into fine furniture reproductions.
As a young couple, they built their first home almost entirely by themselves, with just the help of a single carpenter. Once the 3,500-square foot dwelling was complete, Steve started to make furniture for it. Their need for furnishings prompted an interest in antiques. They’d buy pieces from a San Francisco dealer who imported vintage furniture from England; whenever a container arrived, the couple would often turn up to help unload it. Thus, the first pieces they collected were English Arts & Crafts. “I think it was fortunate we got to experience Arts & Crafts in chronological order,” says Steve.
By 1985, they were officially in business as Voorhees Craftsman. Since 2001, they’ve had a storefront in Pasadena. When customers began asking for hard-to-find or non-existent pieces like king-size beds, they began making new Arts & Crafts furniture with accurately reproduced details. The couple also do close copies—true replicas in some cases—of historic pieces. They were chosen by the Stickley Museum to re-create replicas of a bed, dresser, and nightstand missing from the girls’ bedroom at Craftsman Farms.
Antiques sales continue to outstrip sales of reproductions. Prices are lower, overall, than they were in the hot markets of the mid-1980s and ’90s. “It’s a great time for people to buy now,” Steve says.
Comfort with Authenticity
Steve and Mary Ann Voorhees generally find that their clients want replicas and custom pieces inspired by originals, rather than “interpretive” or contemporary Arts & Crafts furniture. Perhaps that’s because they’re known for their background in antiques. The Voorhees’ tiny furniture shop in Sonoma County employs two woodworkers, assisted by a part-time hardware specialist in Pasadena; Steve continues to do some woodworking and, along with Mary Ann, much of the finishing.
Everything is crafted the old-fashioned way, from through-tenon joints to steam-bent backs. The deep, lustrous finishes reflect the Voorhees’ experience in refinishing and regluing old pieces. “We don’t compromise quality,” says Steve. “We want to make something we can take pride in.”
If you’ve ever sat down in a Voorhees Morris chair or settle, you know how comfortable the furniture is. The shop does all of its own upholstery work. Mary Ann makes all the cushions herself, and she and Steve personally test each piece for comfort; those that aren’t comfortable get reworked.
Seating is built on hardwood frames. Springs in the seat cushions are followed by padding, which is covered in the highest quality upholstery leathers the couple can find. They also take seriously customer preferences. When one client told them he couldn’t rest his arms on hard surfaces, they built a Morris chair for him with padded arms. “He was really happy about that,” Mary Ann says.
Having so many extraordinary antiques pass through their hands gives the couple an edge many furniture artisans can’t match. In some cases, they’ve had the luxury of being able to disassemble antiques in order to create accurate copies. “I think the hard part already has been done when you are making replicas,” says Steve, referring to the talent of the period’s original designers. “Our appreciation of their skills is expressed in our work.”
Making close copies provides a bonus for the Steve and Mary Ann. Noting that antiques dealers inevitably part with treasured pieces, Steve and Mary Ann find they can let go a little more easily. “We can sell some of the more rare pieces,” Mary Ann says, “because we know we can always replicate them.”
Steve and Mary Ann Voorhees, Voorhees Craftsman, Pasadena, CA (626) 298-0142, voorheescraftsman.com