2008 changed a lot of lives. The economy tanked, and people lost their jobs. Businesses closed. The prospects were bleak and those with enterprise and ambition had little time to pivot … to find their next move.
After finishing prep school at Master’s School in West Simsbury, CT, Zachary DeBisschop plied his estimable talents as a three time all-star soccer player to venture into competitive college soccer at Houghton College on an athletic scholarship. His love for the game could not overcome the injuries he endured, so realizing that physical damage when young can lead to years of painful results, he returned to Connecticut, enrolled in a local college and became apprenticed to a cabinetmaker.
And so, Zach found himself firmly settled in the chaos of 2008 … and made a dramatic, life changing move. Working with a cabinetmaker, immersed in the fine work of cabinetry and the enticing beauty of wood, Zach used the point of inflection – he was out of work – to register at The International Yacht Restoration School of Technology and Trades, “IYRS” for short, and found himself, on very short notice, in Newport, RI. A sailing mecca, Newport was, for a century, home to the America’s Cup and continues to be a major sailing port. For Zach, it was an experience unlike any other he had encountered.
Boat building as a team sport
The experience at IRYS was constructed around the notion of teams, and Zach became immediately immersed in his first year project, working with another student to construct a 12’ “Beetle Cat” – a legendary New England design that has been used for decades to teach sailing and racing. “At the end of the term, we’d launch our boats and have a regatta in the Newport Harbor,” Zach recalls with justifiable pride. “There was a real sense of accomplishment.”
After a summer plying his new-found skills at legendary Brookline Boatyard on the coast of Maine, he was back at IRYS for his second year. Zach became part of a larger team that tackled a much more complex project. The year’s efforts created a Watch Hill 15’ sailboat that was celebrated with its maiden voyage at the end of the term.
Then, it was off to make his way in the world. Zach needed a job, and Skip Crocker of Crocker’s Boat Yard in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA, welcomed him. Noted for its restoration skills, the boat yard became home for Zach DeBisschop for six years. “We had some incredible restorations,” he recalls. “One Riva 27 restoration on a boat that sailed Lake Winnipesaukee was nine intense months.” The experience was remarkable.
New York calling
It is worthwhile to note that Zach DeBisschop grew up around woodworkers. His father and his grandfather maintained woodworking studios while they pursued other careers. If a deep affection for working with wood can be “in the blood,” then Zach certainly has that running through his veins. From working on the restoration of classic wooden boats to creating elegant pieces of wooden furniture was not a leap, and when Anchor & Canvass on the waterfront in Brooklyn, NY, made Zach an offer, he ventured from the New England coastline to the heart of the design and build world – New York.
“I realized that my passion was the design and building of custom furniture,” Zach allows as he reflects on two years at Anchor & Canvas and the eventual decision to move out on his own. Grace Woodworking, named after his grandmother, has given direction and purpose to Zach’s talent. “I love working with clients – interior designers or the final customers – to dig deep into what they are dreaming and to make those dreams real.”
With clients from Boston to New York, Montreal to Philadelphia and many stops in between, Zach has carefully nurtured a reputation as a perfectionist – a design and build specialist who exhibits painstaking patience in creating artworks that are also furniture.
“I’ve been able to find the specialists needed to make concepts into reality,” he reflects. His specialty is the elegant designing and fashioning of the wood that becomes chairs, rockers, tables, and accent pieces. Fabricating the metal fittings, the upholstering, the finishing work in a tightly controlled spraying environment are all elements included in his pieces. “Fuming wood has become quite attractive, yielding either a dark brown or grey finish. There’s a specialist in Massachusetts who has the ammonia gas chamber needed. Finding the right people with the right skills has been an important part of building the business.”
Welcome to Litchfield
And, the business has been building. Custom design and build requests keep coming in to Grace Woodworking, but there is more. “I’ve had ideas … designs … in mind for some time. It’s time to build some of those pieces and offer them for the public to see.” As a result, Grace Woodworking has opened (as of August 1, 2020) a gallery/retail environment on Bantam Road in Litchfield.
“I’ve been driving down Bantam Road for years, on my way to Gaylordsville (CT) to buy my wood at Conway Hardwood. When I saw the ‘for rent’ sign at 503 Bantam Road, it all seemed to make sense.” Art and design have come together with the presentation of Zach DeBisschop’s furniture. Along with his wife, a first grade teacher in Winsted, CT, the gallery has come together with appeal to a very specific and welcoming audience.
“I build heirloom furniture pieces,” offers Zach. “We’re fortunate that our clients have an artistic mind and the clarity to know what works … what meets their expectations.”
Creating fine pieces in the tradition of his influences – Maloof, Eames, Aalto – Zach has often wrestled with the age-old challenge of whether there is really an original idea … an original thought. One look at the flowing pieces he creates, the answer becomes clear to the casual observer. Certainly, a chair is a chair … a table is a table. But, in the hands of an imaginative and skilled artist, those pieces take on a uniqueness that reflects very original thinking.
It may be difficult to draw a cognitive line between celebrated skills on the soccer pitch and creating elegant furniture, but there are some talents that transcend the obvious. Being a center mid fielder in soccer is a very demanding position. Stamina and skills have to be united to yield a player who truly makes a difference. Wrestling with the enormous pieces of wood that become realized as a large table or exerting the strength to bring individual components together to form a stylish chair require real stamina.
Being able to “see” the entire field, to anticipate where the play will move and to both take command of the game and instinctively know what your teammates are likely to do is all part of the complex world of the mid fielder. Understanding your client’s expectations and vision while being able to convert those impulses through the lens of your own creativity is what being a skilled furniture maker is all about.
The days of running full tilt for 90 minutes may be behind Zach DeBisschop, but the days and nights of working flat out as Grace Woodworking transitions into the competitive world of attracting knowledgeable customers while still satisfying demanding clients is very much alive. •
Grace Woodworking is located at 503 Bantam Road (Route 202) in Litchfield, CT and at gracewoodworkingllc.com.
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