When you look at one of Adrian resident Luke Barnett’s handcrafted traditional American Windsor chairs, you can picture it sitting in a cherished spot in someone’s home decades from now, having seen countless family dinners and holiday celebrations, still as strong and durable as ever. Luke’s chairs are truly heirlooms, and he admires the way the wood develops a dark patina that he says is only brought about by “good hard use.” His chairs are beautiful, yes, but they are also high quality pieces of everyday furniture.
Luke’s grandfather sparked his passion for woodworking at the age of 13, and soon he was putting his talents to work helping his uncle restore houses. After graduating from Hudson High School, he began a mentorship with artisan chairmaker Curtis Buchanan, who is considered by some to be one of the premier Windsor chairmakers in the world. In 2011, Luke began making his own Windsor chairs to sell, and by 2013, it was his full time occupation. Now 30, Luke is among the youngest Windsor chair artisans, and he has been honored with many awards and featured in numerous publications, including Popular Woodworking and Early American Life magazines. The latter named him Top American Craftsman in the Windsor chair making field. A traveling exhibit called “The Way We Work” by the Smithsonian Museum also featured Luke’s chairs.
Luke’s chairs are special from start to finish. He uses only locally sourced maple and oak logs that he has selected himself to ensure the straightest grain. The logs are hand split, and he forms all his parts by hand. He says that this is important to ensure that each piece is precisely made for strength and durability, especially because his chairs are so light and elegant. Machine-cut pieces would need to be bulkier to compensate for their lack of this attention to detail. One of the most interesting things about Luke’s chairs is that he uses a process that allows him to make a chair that doesn’t need to be glued together. He does use some glue in some spots, he says, but it’s largely unnecessary since the pieces are kiln-dried before assembly and then allowed to expand, holding them firmly in place. Even his finishing coatings are made by hand using quality ingredients from recipes that were passed on to him.
While Luke keeps himself quite busy these making beautiful chairs and doing shows, he hasn’t forgotten his humble beginnings. In fact, he recently purchased one of the homes in Adrian that he helped his uncle renovate when he was a teenager.