As a heavy equipment mechanic at the time, his skills came in handy. Swanson says, “In order to customize a piece for people I used my set of skills with welding and repairing components.”
Seemingly, Swanson made a wise career choice. In the past 15 years, his clients have included Ralph Lauren, Sheryl Crow and New England Patriots tight-ends coach Jeff Davidson. “One time Ralph Lauren wanted a spider-shaped chandelier,” Swanson says. “Picture an outline of a spider on the floor, like a Spiderman logo. He envisioned it going over a ceiling in an alcove, so I made the chandelier for that spot.”
The key to an impeccable chandelier: grade-A antlers. “The outer lines need to be appealing first. Then the color of the antler needs to be vibrant. Ivory tips with brown and chocolate colors. That’s what you get with an A-grade antler. The more depth and contrast in color, the more stunning a first impression.
“Sometimes you walk into a person’s home and you’re afraid to set your glass down on the furniture,” Karen Kreek, owner of Karen Kreek Camp Design Furniture, previously of Ennis, now in Bozeman says. “My work isn’t that.”
Brightly colored and fashioned after the rustic camp look of the ‘40s, Kreek’s furniture—from daybeds, to armoires, to blanket chests—may be worn around the edges, but it is no worse for the wear. One of her claims to fame: She adorns the artwork of her late father-in-law, famous wildlife artist Fred Sweeney, to certain pieces.
“He painted for Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, National Geographic—so we had a huge collection of his art,” Kreek says. “And we had people asking us, ‘Could you put a bear on this or a fish?’ When I started applying Fred’s art to it, it had that old lodge look. That’s how we got into the camp design.”
Kreek’s hoarding habit came in handy with the assortment of conchos she accrued, too. “I’ve been collecting old pawn Indian jewelry for years, and I love the crude look of the stuff—it has such incredible character,” Kreek says. “One day I thought, ‘That would make a great hand pull.’ So I gave it to a guy and he cast it for me.”
When pressed about the rusting compound used to make the hardware look antique, Kreek says it is her secret formula. And having made the rounds at trade shows nationwide (Kreek’s furniture is featured in Crow’s Nest Trading Company, Black Forest Decór, and Pendleton Home catalogs), she’s not apt to reveal her secret any time soon.
Chris Pemberton, owner of Echo Basin Woodworks in Bigfork, generally doesn’t call a supplier when he needs materials for a piece. Instead, he drives a few miles down the road where a local farmer takes boards off his barn for him. Then he turns the reclaimed wood into a bed. Or, he might poke around a farmstead junk pile that the landowner gives him access to. He’ll find railroad spikes to make into dresser drawer pulls, or barn door hinges to use as ornamental iron.
“(The farmer) has his own sawmill, so he’ll actually take boards off his barn for me and then just cut new ones to replace the old ones. It’s an old family farm,” Pemberton says. “It looks like they’ve been there for generations.”