We first met Monte and Cher Wildey at the Packwood Flea Market over Memorial Day, 2013. Actually we met over Makalu, their beautiful Great Dane as we were thinking of getting one ourselves and stuck up a conversation about dogs. In talking we found out that they build Adirondack chair and table sets out of old wine barrels and instantly we connected the dots: their finely crafted furniture, Adytum Sanctuary (www.adytumsanctuary.com), and hopefully meeting Makalu again!
Their wine-inspired artistry fits right into our ever-expanding 120 vine Pinot Noir vineyard and Don Hatfield’s fine art inside ~ The Sommelier and numerous Modern Impressionism works we carry as part of our growing collection for sale to our guests and to the public. (See note at end) Late Friday afternoon on a beautiful summer afternoon in July, the Wildeys drove in from blistering heat in Eastern Washington, 103 in the shade, to the relative perfection of the Pacific Northwest summer on the Western side of the mountains. They unloaded their unique treasures (heavy!!) and we all decided they would look best against the wall of rocks with bee-laden lavender spilling down and in full view of the boats on sparkling Lake Mayfield. It created a new vignette; the perfect relaxation station, savoring sun setting on the vineyard with a glass of wine at day’s end in complete comfort embraced by the heart and soul of fine wine-nurtured wood turned fine furniture.
We learned why the Wildey’s chairs are unique but first, let me tell you why this couple is so unique. They have been married for two years, together for three. Monte works for the Department of Energy as a Network Administrator and Cher works in Imaging at Kadlec Hospital doing billing and coding. When she realized she wasn’t seeing her new husband much after work because, creative as he is, he was always in the garage working on projects Cher decided to join him in the shop.
“I got my own set of tools and learned from Monte how to become a finish carpenter. It’s not the first thing he’s taught me. I now own a cruiser motorcycle and learned to ride so we could be together on road trips.” These amazing chair and table sets are handcrafted by BOTH of the Wildeys and you can feel their great energy signature invisibly imprinted on every piece: “Made with love and a desire to enjoy life and each other fully…” Monte picked up the creativity gene as a child from both parents who were such craftsmen and painters that they started a successful business in retirement. In his youth, Monte made a rock fireplace and stone wall at his parents’ home. When I asked how he started making chairs, he and Cher told a story, each jumping in to fill in the other’s sentences like they’d been married much longer than 2 years. Cher explained that they visited a town caller Mosier and traveling with Makalu, they stopped into the only pub in town that allowed dogs, the “Thirsty Woman Pub” (http://www.thirstywoman.com/). Everyone sitting around the rustic campfire in Adirondack chairs drinking beer from mason jars had a story of extreme sports in the great Northwest to share. Monte jumped in, “But I didn’t like the chairs. They felt like they sagged back. Remembering the chairs on my grandfather’s porch I thought, I could make these…” Now, the garage is never without a work in progress but their mutual synergistic creativity didn’t stop at chairs and tables. They make bar-stools that are showcased in saloons, clocks, and also lighting made from beer growlers. (Yes, I had to look that up!)
Next on the list is a footstool to go with the chairs…Monte also makes glassware and I requested the “tipsy” kind I last bought from a German glassmaker.
The inventiveness of these two is boundless and they work together well. Cher humbly says,“I just do what Monte shows me.” Yet he has brought a side of Cher to light perhaps she never would have discovered, showcasing her innate talent and she had the initiative to leave her comfort zone and break into a field typically dominated by men. Monte’s loving investments in mentoring her and Cher’s desire to be with him has enhanced their business, their married lives, and certainly ours as we enjoy the fruit of their love and labor at Adytum. You will feel it when you sit in their chairs, trust me.
As we sat in the Tower Room at Adytum, Monte explained that the life expectancy of a wine barrel is 4-7 years depending on the wine and the vintner. Then they are sold. They like using red wine barrels because of the color. “You will see wine barrel furniture stained dark brown. It’s because the wood-worker is using a gray barrel and bringing the color up with stain.” Cher pipes in, “We like our furniture to remain true to the wood tone and will hand-select barrels with the finished product in mind.” Sometimes a barrel is opened and the interior is charred black and rendered unusable. Personally, I wouldn’t mind that distressed look at all. Monte buys barrels with slat size in mind. A certain width will allow for extensive purposes whereas a whisky barrel slat is just too wide and too limiting for most projects.
They are in competition with many others also keen on obtaining barrels- mostly to use as planters and this was Monte’s original intention too. Wineries are routinely called and arrangements are made to pick up what they have for sale, usually for around $100. New French Oak barrels run $2500. Monte indicted a cooperage in Okanagan (http://www.winebarrels.com/) who makes new barrels by steaming the wood to create the curves and pressing it together – this factory might prove a fun side trip if you’re in Canada to see how it is done on site.
The cooperage even makes a dog-side car for a motorcycle that is made from a barrel! The Great Dane Makalu already has her own goggles, so next: the addition of a sidecar on the motorcycle and a trip back to Thirsty Woman Pub, who will hopefully commission an upgrade to their current Adirondack chairs!
Monte and Cher begin the long process of stripping the staves off, sanding, and reassembling into the chair and table. “When we open up the barrel the whole garage smells like wine,” his eyes roll back in pure pleasure. Nice working atmosphere! One barrel produces one chair and table. The metal strip from the barrel is cut and reused as a brace. Everything is sanded smooth before being installed. Monte builds for aesthetics and feel, “I think of my grandmother sitting in the chair, or a child. I don’t want anyone to snag their clothing on a sharp edge.” Cher adds, “We build them to last…”
Every barrel is unique and comes complete with its own markings, numbers or designs, from the winery. The tops of the chairs have a bevel I assumed was carved in- yes, but not by them. It is the actual lip which holds the barrel top. The sensuous curve of the chairs is appealing and seems to take a genius at cutting to create a seamless whole without gaps. This attention to detail is much appreciated by us at Adytum Sanctuary who have always seen deeply into art and the detailed artistry of fine woodworking.
In another display of creative perfection, they use the wine-stained sawdust to mix with the epoxy so that even the glue blends seamlessly into the whole. Each piece of furniture that will be outdoors is coated in a very expensive marine varnish, $120 a gallon, and then lightly sanded before adding two additional coats. Drying time is never just the 24 hours recommended on the container but can extend far beyond that making the chair a two week-long labor of love as they work evenings together on this endeavor. The only parts of the finished product that are not from the wine barrel itself are stainless steel screws and plugs to cover the screw holes, a step many other craftsmen choose to forego (sanding too, leaving rough edges to scrape oneself on…)
Next time we see the Wildeys, perhaps they scream in on their road bikes with Makalu sporting some sexy dog-goggles and looking adventuresome with a Snoopy-style white fighter pilot scarf around her neck flying in the wind as she hunkers down in her wine barrel side car for the ride. We raise a glass of future Adytum Sanctuary label Pinot Noir in salute to you Great Dane beauty who brought new friends, fine furniture, and a great love story to inspire us at Adytum Sanctuary!
For hand-crafted furniture or fine art purchase information of , contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Special commissions are available. Most of the furniture pieces are heavy but shipping is an option.