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Following the Grain with Michael Singer (Mick)


Pulling up to Mick's house seems normal enough until you notice the garage door opening to an impressive and busy wood working shop- the tools, the timber, the organization- oh my!

Mick has been honing his craft- literally- with exotic woods, gorgeous shapes, and pristine finishes all exposing his passion for nature's remarkable beauty. He loves his work- that's obvious. He loves his wife- that's adorable.

[caption id="attachment_1206" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Mick with his best gal, Sally. They are truly an inspiring couple."][/caption]

And he's carved out a successful and balanced life in a beautiful mountain-side home in Felton, California- that's impressive!

Over the years my visits with Mick and his wife, Sally, have always been warm, optimistic and friendly. He seems to move between personal and professional life as easily as walking through the door from his workshop to his kitchen. And his passion never seems to wane. I wanted to know how he does it- so- I asked him!

[caption id="attachment_1221" align="aligncenter" width="396" caption="Mick designed and built this beautiful one-of-a-kind kitchen. The island is just incredible to me."][/caption]

SK: First, tell me a bit about how you got into woodworking.

Mick: The quick answer is, I was working in Marine Biology when we bought our first house in 1989. It needed work, so I bought a few tools, picked up books and magazines, and just sort of jumped in. My woodworking background was basically nil- just the usual banging together scraps as a boy and shop class in grade school. I liked it, but, I headed into science in High School.

Once I started buying tools for our home I needed to come up with a way to pay for them, so I started doing small commissions for friends. It just sort of mushroomed from there.

[caption id="attachment_1216" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="These days Mick is being featured in magazines and was recently profiled on "Wood Works" on Santa Cruz Community TV. That's not a set- that's his shop! "][/caption]

SK: How did you start working yourself?

Mick: I spent the first 25 years working in marine biology- academia mostly. The leap into self-employment came when the funding for my last University position was cut. As resources dwindled around me, I realized that I could commute hours to/from my lab beating the bushes for money to support my position and staff plus lab, OR I could beat the bushes for commissions for just myself. With the incredibly generous support of my wife, Sally, I took the latter path.

SK: You two make an amazing team! So, what is most difficult about flying solo? What are the perks?
Mick: The obvious difficulties are mostly physical - moving large heavy things around can be difficult for one person. You learn to make lots of jigs and really think through your process.

There's also the potential for isolation. When I start talking to the cats a little too earnestly, I know its time to get out into the world for a while. I'm a founding member of the Santa Cruz Woodworkers- its a great way to get out, socialize and talk shop.

[caption id="attachment_1243" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Santa Cruz Woodworker site allows Mick and so many others to show their beautiful work. Click this image to check it out!"][/caption]

I'm also on the steering committee for the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County's Open Studios Art Tour - its another outlet for talking to real adults and rubbing elbows with some really talented artists.

The perks are obvious - making my own hours, no commuting, being allowed into the homes and lives of really wonderful, supportive clients, being creative and able to see the tangible results of your ideas.

SK: You made me laugh out loud about the cats, but I know what you mean. What's your favorite moment in the process?

Mick: Each step has its own particular reward. There's definitely something of a rush when a design idea comes together on paper (more accurately- on my screen). Solving a sticky problem or design issue is satisfying. And sometimes, when the first coat of finish goes onto a particularly figured piece of lumber, it can be quite a thrill. Certainly, one of the most rewarding parts is the delivery. Even when they've seen the drawings and know what their piece is supposed to look like, when the client sees the finished piece for the first time, its very satisfying.

SK: What inspires you?

Mick: It sounds cliched, but as a biologist first, I certainly find inspiration in natural forms. I also look to Art Deco and Art Nouveau masters and the Arts and Crafts movement, Asian art and design, and 20th Century architecture. I get inspiration from other art forms too - glass, jewelry, sculpture.

SK: You're like so many creatives- drawn to a few styles but inspired by so much around you. Moving on, it's no surprise that your hillside home overlooks the magnificent view of the San Lorenzo Valley.

Mick: Yes, our house is a perpetual work in progress, usually my favorite room is the one we've most recently remodeled. With the new tub and garden window in our remodeled bathroom, my wife takes a lot more baths than she used to.

SK: I'm certain and decisive for my clients, but in my own home I torture myself! How is the experience for you?
Mick: Ha, you're lucky - I torture myself with my client's designs as well as my own. Luckily, in my own home I have Sally as a sounding board. She's a second pair of eyes when I get too bogged down. I like to work collaboratively with my clients too. I'm often pleasantly surprised when a client comes up with a tweak in the design that I didn't see. When that happens, even though the overall design has come from me, I think it ads to the client's enjoyment when they can point to some aspect of the piece and claim ownership of it. In my home, when I really hit a wall, I call in outside help.

[caption id="attachment_1207" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Obviously- BEFORE shot- Mick and Sally's Closet during their remodel"][/caption]

In the master bath/bedroom case, we had no idea what colors of paint to use, so we called in a certain color expert we know (yes folks, it was Shannon). In fact, it was your suggestion that led to our great closet design.

[caption id="attachment_1208" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="I think all I said was, "what if it was more of a built in piece than a closet?" Mick ran 100 yds with it and created this stunning storage solution. Sally loves it too!"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1209" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="This unit doesn't house a kitchen sink but it does hold everything else including an ironing board!"][/caption]

It was even featured in a recent issue of Fine Homebuilding magazine!

SK: What's next professionally or personally?
The custom furniture business tends be sort of feast-or-famine, and right now I've got several months of work backlogged. So, for me the near future is just trying to please my clients.

SK: That's a fantastic problem to have, but it can be a lot of pressure. I have a feeling you'll do just fine. Anything else you'd like to ad?

Yeah, the Santa Cruz Woodworkers will be having an exhibition at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History this Summer and Fall July 30 - November 13. Come check out some really great, creative work. Thanks for having me on your blog!

Thank you, Mick. You and Sally are among my favorite and most inspiring people- and your bbq's are pretty fantastic too :-) Enjoy your Summer!!


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