For Drew Hubatsek, the Adirondack style shapes both his art and worldview
HOME STORY BY MYERS REECE | PHOTOGRAPHY BY LIDO VIZZUTTIANYONE interested in buying fine furniture from Drew Hubatsek needn’t worry about locating his website or cell phone number. He has neither a computer nor mobile phone. Your best bet is a hand-written letter or a message on his home phone answering machine, which he checks between long stints in his hand-built workshop in Woods Bay.
Hubatsek’s shunning of technology says a lot about his lifestyle, clearly, but it also speaks to his business philosophy. His rustic furniture harkens back to a late-19th and early-20th century era in which wealthy Gilded Age families like the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts constructed “great camps” in northern New York’s wild country. These camps featured elaborate log cabin mansions and compounds with interior furnishings built in the style Hubatsek reveres: Adirondack, named after that untamed region he remembers so fondly from his youth.
“My furniture goes back to a simpler, quieter time of life, a time with more solitude,” he says. “It seems wrong to be hawking it on the Internet. People can give me a call and we’ll get together and talk about what they want.”
If you do call the number for Hubatsek’s Adirondack Workshop, on the other end of the line you’ll encounter a gregarious woodworker who is as laidback about life as he is serious about work. And, more often, people are discovering just how good that work is, which shouldn’t be surprising coming from a man who believes in a furniture style so fervently that it shapes his worldview.
Hubatsek has been infatuated with trees and their potential for art his entire life, beginning when he was a boy tinkering around in his father’s woodworking shop. His father was an engineer, Associated Press photographer and woodworker, and his mother was a ceramics teacher, suggesting Hubatsek was destined for a life in art.
Today, in Hubatsek’s workshop, there is a shrine dedicated to his father on the wall, with a photograph of the man who so greatly influenced him surrounded by woodworking tools. Hubatsek points out to visitors an antique cordless drill with a hand crank that he inherited from his grandfather. Three generations of woodworkers are represented in that small shop, and evidence of his mother’s influence also hangs on the walls.
As a boy, Hubatsek’s family would spend summers in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, an area that features the largest park in the lower 48 at over 6 million acres, six times the size of Glacier National Park. He fell in love with the architecture and furniture of the great camps, and that love simmered within him for decades before finally boiling over into a fine furniture career, beginning in earnest 10 years ago, although he has worked with wood and trees his entire adult life, including as a tree surgeon with his own business in Tahoe.
Adirondack-style furniture is associated with wood that is often left unpeeled and nonlinear, with finished pieces maintaining much of the wood’s natural form and texture. The term, however, can be broadly applied, and it’s also associated with the chairs that bear the style’s name: Adirondacks. These are the deep-seated wooden outdoor chairs often found on patios and lawns.
Hubatsek builds both exquisitely finished Adirondack chairs and a wide array of other pieces that have been less altered from their forest state. When building the latter pieces, he lets the wood itself dictate the process. His shop and property are littered with piles of branches and twigs – lilac, cherry, cedar, maple and more – interspersed with common dimensional wood.
In a thicker branch, Hubatsek might see the beginnings of a table foundation. In another branch, he might see the potential for a chair arm. Sometimes the bark stays; sometimes it goes.
“You can actually see the natural forms in these,” he says. “I try to send a message to people to look at wood in a new way. Look at what trees have to offer you without being manipulated into a rectangular, linear form.”
True to his philosophy, Hubatsek consciously avoids forcing wood into something it doesn’t want to be.
“The process is a dance,” he says. “It’s mood dependent sometimes. A piece will fight you and you’ll have to walk away and come back later with a new perspective.”
The final products of this process cover a wide spectrum of functionality. Some are highly utilitarian, perhaps a bed frame, table or desk. Others are largely ornamental “art pieces.” They may be built custom or on spec, with a number of pieces having been featured at Flathead galleries and the Bigfork Museum of Art and History.
“They’re sculpture and they’re utilitarian – they cross between those two realms,” he says, adding, as he points to a funky chair with branches sprouting from the backrest in his living room: “You could sit in that one, but you wouldn’t want to read a novel in it.”
But Hubatsek has a series of chairs that you would want to read a novel in, or maybe even fall asleep in: his durable, attractive and comfortable Adirondack chairs. He has spent two years perfecting the design formula for his Adirondacks, and they are distinct from many of his other pieces in the sleekness of their linear flow and refined finish. They look good and feel good.
In traditional Adirondack chairs, some of the most crucial pivot points have been held together with either nails or screws. Hubatsek instead uses inter-locking dovetail joints that “will never separate.” The African ribbon mahogany wood in his high-end Adirondacks further contributes to their durability. The chairs can be used inside or outside, and if left untreated a chair could be left out in the elements “for 100 years and it would just turn gray,” its sturdy structure remaining intact. Treated with oil, it wouldn’t even lose its color.
“This is heirloom furniture,” he says. “I take the basic Adirondack design and elevate it to fine furniture. There are a lot of people making regular Adirondack chairs, but I wanted to make something special.”
Hubatsek is thrilled to share his love of the Adirondack culture, meticulously crafting pieces of furniture that can be passed down through the generations, perhaps inspiring new waves of furniture builders who want to pay tribute to a quieter, simpler time from our past.
“The response has been great,” Hubatsek said of his Adirondacks. “Once people get a chance to live with these chairs for awhile and appreciate what went into them, they just love them.”
To contact Adirondack Workshop, call Drew Hubatsek at (406) 837-6868.