Meet Julia, Magdalene, and Other Life-Changing Muses

Nicholas Swann counts his furniture pieces among his children.
Portrait by Karin Strickland

Nicholas Swann worked in the construction business for 12 years, until he realized that team projects didn’t equal personal fulfillment. “I got so burnt out on [building houses] because it basically turned into managing people. There was no creativity in it,” he says. About three years ago, after much consideration, Swann enrolled in Haywood Community College’s professional crafts program to become a self-sustaining custom woodworker. 

Nowadays, Swann has his own space in the Foundation Woodworks gallery/studio in the River Arts District, where he creates what he calls “heirloom-quality furniture, using time-honored techniques and hand-rubbed finishes that beg to be touched.” His style — modern, with clean lines and sculptural undertones — was perfected during his time at HCC, and Swann praises his mentor, instructor Brian Wurst, and the school’s craft program in general, for allowing him to develop a singular artistic voice. 

“They gave us total creative freedom no matter what. I was really surprised that every piece I made had my own stamp on it,” he says. 

Swann’s furniture is clean-lined with a Scandinavian undertone.

Swann favors mixing textures (i.e., putting a brass inlay into a coffee table) and completing a piece with an oil finish: “It’s really elegant,” he says. “It’s exactly what I want in my furniture.”

He considers all of his creations to be his “children” — and he took that artistic metaphor to the next level by actually naming a couple of pieces after his daughters. The first thing he ever created, a desk he fashioned while in school, was promptly named the Julia Desk, after his firstborn child. The piece sold at the school’s graduation show. There’s also the Magdalene Chair, which Swann named after his second daughter, because both chair and girl seem, at first, straightforward — “but when you dig deeper, they’re a bit more complex,” he says.
(There are several Magdalene Chairs around his family’s own
dining-room table.)

The Magdalene Chair (above) was named after his younger daughter.

For a while, Swann was working out of a studio a few steps from his back door. He loved the solitude it provided, but missed the community atmosphere he’d experienced in school. He rediscovered a sense of artistic communion, as it were, when he moved into Foundation Woodworks. Now he’s in close proximity to artists who have wide-ranging backgrounds. There are “artsy folks,” as Swann calls them — at least one of whom, Mark Joseph Oliver, graduated from the renowned Maryland Institute College of Art — and a few fellow HCC graduates, as well. “There’s a wealth of knowledge here, and a lot of camaraderie, too, which is great.”

Beautiful woodgrain in the Julia Desk.

During his decade-plus in the construction business, Swann never had a means for expressing his latent creativity. Now that he’s found his niche, he has no desire to go back to the world of building homes. Instead, he wants to build beautiful works that go inside those homes. 

“I’m hooked. When I’m able to block out all of the distractions of the modern world and create something original, it’s incredibly rewarding.”

Nicholas Swann, Swann Fine Furniture, Foundation Woodworks (17 Foundy St., River Arts District, Asheville, foundationwoodworks.com). Swann also shows at Grovewood Gallery (111 Grovewood Road, Asheville, grovewood.com). For more information, see swannfinefurniture.com.

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