An interview with Heidi Earnshaw - furniture maker and designer

There’s history in the way certain pieces of wood are joined together.“

Heidi and Loup

Heidi and Loup

Heidi Earnshaw, one of the founders of Junction Workshop, works by day as one of Canada’s most celebrated and prolific furniture makers. You’ll find her pieces in the Canadian High Commission in London, but also in the cozy living room of your friend with impeccable taste. Her designs are modern, with clean lines and a simple aesthetic. The character and the warmth of the pieces lie in the details: an elegant dovetail joint, the subtle shaping on a leg, or the way everything seems to sit at just the right height.

Heidi keeps one foot in history and another in the present. While her designs are notably modern, she is inspired by tradition. Many of her designs nod to historical detailing, but pare it down to its basic elements. She also does all her technical drawings by hand. You can often find her drawing precise lines in soft pencil with the help of stainless steel rulers in cast iron protractor heads. Doing things the traditional way is time-consuming. She often spends over a month on one item, gradually building the piece from an idea to an object that can be passed down for generations. As she painstakingly puts her pieces together one careful step at a time, her dog Loup stands sentry over the workshop, greeting visitors with sawdust speckling her dense fur.

I talked to Heidi about her passion for woodworking, her hopes for Junction Workshop, and why she thinks more and more people are getting interested in woodworking.

What do you love about woodworking?

I love working with my hands and the mental focus that woodworking requires. I’m a detailed person and I like that woodworking requires a lot of careful attention and deliberate actions. I also love being in the studio, in comfortable clothes covered in sawdust, surrounded by other artists and woodworkers. Woodworking is in some ways a lifestyle as well as a job. You join a close community and you have to work hard and work long hours.

What do you find most challenging about woodworking?

Being a woodworker means being a small business owner. We don’t just come in and start working with tools and wood. There’s a lot more administration than people think and it can be hard to escape sitting in front of a computer. From managing clients, to design work, to banking, to bookkeeping, to talking to suppliers and getting materials in, all of that is done in front of a screen. That’s the stuff I find most difficult.

Why do you think there’s so much enthusiasm for these courses?

I think it’s because people crave doing something tangible in real time. I think what’s appealing is that it’s connected back to something, that it’s part of long tradition. There is history in the way 2 pieces of wood are joined together. These skills and methods were developed collectively by humans over thousands of years. It’s powerful to realize that you’re working with the same techniques and that those techniques are still valuable.

What are your aspirations for Junction Workshop?

In the immediate future we are preparing for new classes in the fall but in addition to that I hope we’ll do more community based work. It is our goal that we can offer classes to people who would otherwise not be able to afford them. We’d also be interested in engaging in projects where we build something collectively that goes to a community centre or social service agency - projects that can serve the needs of marginalized communities.

More than anything we hope to keep Junction Workshop going so that more people can continue to have exposure to this traditional way of working and to the pleasures of making things. It really is energizing and inspiring to teach students who are so wholeheartedly interested in the process and amazed by what they are able to accomplish with their own hands.

With rising rents, light-industrial spaces that can accommodate workshops like ours are disappearing in Toronto. Several studios in the building next to ours just closed, unmooring artists who have been there for years. There is so much value in keeping these creative and productive studios in the city, where we are accessible to the wider community.