The Intersection of Form and Function – Furniture Builder David Hatch

As someone who isn’t a homeowner yet but has given countless friends and family members opinions on many a bedroom or living room remodel, I have learned two things about furniture:  it’s quite possibly one of the most difficult things to shop for, and when you do finally decide to place an order on a piece you find in a catalog or on a showroom floor, it never seems to be quite right.

Custom furniture builder David Hatch, who owns Fine Line Classics in Ephraim, understands that frustration – but also knows that furniture can be just as artful as it can be functional. With a promise of, “If you can imagine it, I can build it,” Hatch designs and builds pieces that will easily become modern heirlooms – all with attention to details such as wood grain, color, and continuity.

Even though Hatch is a native of Door County, his interest in woodworking began in 1979, the year he began working in a cabinet shop in Washington State. He spent a year and a half out in the Northwest, where he eventually built a few basic furniture pieces for his own use. When those turned out better than expected, he began showing his pieces at art fairs. He moved to Door County and started to create custom furniture in the original Fine Line Classics gallery, which is now Interfibers Design Gallery in Fish Creek.

Around the same time he began Fine Line Classics, Hatch started working under Dan Shea, who was a sailboat builder on the peninsula. Hatch enjoyed working on the boats, and later he worked at Palmer Johnson’s in Sturgeon Bay. This ensured that Hatch could make a living during the winter months, but the job also paved the way for his future as a fine furniture builder.

“Sailboat joinery is a far cry from regular cabinetry,” Hatch laughs. “I learned a lot about shape and form that way – and I also learned that pride in a large-scale construction project and a detailed piece of furniture are very similar. They both require just as much care.”

And it’s that same level of care that has people coming to Hatch for the design and creation of furniture – sometimes several pieces at a time. “Furniture isn’t the easiest thing to purchase,” Hatch says. “And mass-produced furniture is exactly that – it isn’t always right for every space or for every home. Eventually it doesn’t serve any purpose for you and needs to be replaced. Custom-made furniture ensures that you get exactly what you need, whether it has to be built to fit a certain space or serve a certain function. Not only does it have a higher level of craftsmanship, it has a longevity.”

“One of the first things I hear when a customer is serious about creating a piece is, ‘Well, now that the kids are gone, we thought we’d treat ourselves.’” Hatch says. “I think what surprises them the most is how enjoyable the design process is. Most customers start off just wanting a piece of furniture, but when I start to show them combinations of wood colors and grains of lumber, they really start to get excited.” 

Not content to settle for materials primarily found in his own backyard, Hatch uses a variety of specialized woods, including wenge, a tropical dark-colored lumber, bubinga, an African evergreen, and myrtlewood, an evergreen tree found specifically in California and Southern Oregon. “It’s especially fun for me to educate customers on all of the options for wood there is out there. It’s great for them to become part of the process.”

Sometimes the process is personal from the start.

“I had a couple from Menomonee Falls come in and tell me that they had an old walnut tree in their backyard that needed to be cut down – and five children, each of whom had fond memories of that tree throughout their childhood,” Hatch says. “I told them to have the people who were cutting it down saw it in a certain way, and in three years I ended up building six tables out of this tree – one each for the couple and their five kids. It was an awesome project to be a part of – and it ensured that a valuable piece of their family’s history didn’t turn into firewood.”

Another memorable project involved an arborist couple that wanted a different take on a new bed frame. “They actually collected my wood for me,” laughs Hatch, “and they dropped it off outside my studio.” Hatch was able to create a one-of-a-kind posted bed frame that resembled branches woven together. “I was so excited when I installed that project in their home,” he says. “Having gotten to know them through the process, it couldn’t have turned out any better.”

When asked about his own artistic inspirations, Hatch says that he has always been partial to Scandinavian or Danish-designed furniture, but also recognizes other inspirations creeping into his work.

“My son Nathan is a sculpture artist as well as a furniture builder, and lately I’ve been seeing a slightly more industrial side to my work,” he says. Hatch has also worked with Jeanne and David Aurelius from Ellison Bay’s Clay Bay Pottery for many years, and has built several furniture pieces adorned with the Aurelius’s custom-made ceramic tiles.

Hatch estimates that about 90 percent of his body of work is commissioned pieces. Because of the nature of his work, he’s only able to complete about eight to nine pieces a year. With all of the work his custom pieces entail, it would seem that Hatch might have a hard time letting go of some of the pieces that leave his studio. However, Hatch is quick to say that for him, the contentment actually lies in the piece’s life after it leaves his studio.

“I don’t get caught up in the ownership of a piece, because in all honesty, the idea of it has always belonged to someone else,” he says.

“The biggest satisfaction is being able to bury myself in a project – and then being able to let it go, knowing that because it’s a custom piece, it will have a place in someone’s home for years to come.”

David Hatch’s gallery and studio space, Fine Line Classics, is located at 10374 Highway 42 at the north end of Ephraim, next to Fine Line Designs Gallery. For more information about David Hatch and his custom furniture, please call 920.854.9114 or visit