Have you ever felt like your furniture could use some TLC, but your woodworking skills
aren’t up to par? Fret no more – Mario Gracia is here to help you see repurposing as an art, and how revamping your home doesn’t have to be so expensive.
What motivated you to delve into carpentry?
Foreseeing that, frankly, my bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature would not guarantee a job after graduation, I began to seriously consider alternate work possibilities. I always questioned why our educational system leaves out practical information and knowledge, for example, how to repair your car, how electricity works in houses, and how to build all sorts of things. With this in mind, I aimed to dedicate my time to learning a skill that would involve creativity, physical activity and a workshop environment.
I eventually narrowed my search down to wanting to work with wood, a natural, versatile, beautiful and readily available material. I was somewhat familiar with most elements and tools in woodworking because my father Jaime Gracia is a wood and metal sculpture artist. Having such an example so close to me enabled me to see the potential of wood as both a medium of expression and a way of earning a living.
Where did you learn?
I believe that there are no coincidences. As I began asking around for people who could teach me, my friend Pablo told me his father Juan del Hierro ran a homegrown workshop.
I called him right away to ask if I could become his apprentice. The timing could have not been better: four days before my call he had had an accident in which he injured his shoulder, rendering him unable to work alone in his workshop. He needed help, and there I was. We met the day after my call and from there on I went every day to his house, his shop, eager to learn. Originally from Ecuador, he got the chance to travel to New York City, where he learned all sorts of skills in the city from a wide variety of people while doing dancing professionally, which is his passion. After getting married, the entire family moved to Puerto Rico and he established his shop little by little, with lots of hard work. His story is very inspiring; I could not have had a better teacher.
How would you describe your approach to every project?
I see every project as unique, having its own particularities and necessities. Communication with who I am working for is fundamental in developing any project. Asking the customer for examples they have seen or thought of for their furniture project is always very helpful; if they have a clear idea of what they want I have a clearer idea on how to design and build. Initially I try to target the specific needs the customer wants the furniture to fulfill and try to create several possible solutions which may vary in the materials used, finish and price. My work is careful and detailed, with the goal of presenting what fine woodworking is about.
Which has been your favorite project?
Hard to tell. I would say projects in which I do not use as many power tools, since I enjoy working with hand tools very much. That’s where the art lies. You put your soul into handmade pieces.
Apart from working with wood, what other interests do you have?
I try to stay as creatively active as I can. Music is a river I’ve dipped in since my teenage years. I mainly play drums and other instruments such as flutes, which I make myself, focusing on improvisation and collective creation of experiences. I am influenced by great artists such as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Django Reinhardt and Paul Chambers. Literature has also been very important to me. Every book I read is a window to other worlds, new possibilities of thought and experience. Another interest that has grown in me, within the line of being productive, is agriculture. Plants are so incredible and generous. I have learned so many things about myself and my relation to this planet by taking care of a planted patch of land. Planting for food and beauty is so necessary in these times; reconnecting with the earth is fundamental.
Do you believe you can inspire others through your work? How?
Ultimately we are all learning beings, constantly adjusting to and creating changes all around and within us. At the very least, every time I can, I try to pass to others the knowledge I have so willingly been given. I certainly hope more people would get involved in artistic expression and communication, for it is a field that unites. Wood can teach us how to feel through textures, colors and patterns.
What inspires you?
Just look around.
What quick, easy tricks can readers implement to breathe new life into their old furniture?
When dealing with old paint, good old sandpaper is key. Depending on how degraded the piece is, is one could use 150 medium grit, 220 fine grit or 320 very fine grit (grit being the size of the sanding particles) to make it look like new. After carefully sanding and getting an even texture one could paint the affected area or the whole piece, preferably with a similar painting material to the one used before, which could be water based acrylic/latex paint, oil paint, varnish, oil and water based polyurethane, etc. Each paint responds to specific furniture needs, looks, and scenarios. Finely sanding and waxing old furniture with beeswax polish is sure to bring it to life.
When repairing furniture it is better to respect the way it was made and try to go along these lines. Observation is the key. Don’t just hammer some nails in wherever. In case of doubt it is best to ask someone who knows a thing or two about building furniture.
Most importantly, be creative. If you have a piece you are thinking of dismissing, experiment with colors, decorate it with prints or transform it into something else. Turn a big box into a table, a vertical bookcase into a bench, some planks into shelves, whatever comes to mind.
Keep up with Mario Gracia’s work through his Tumblr!