Shaun Wilkerson's (3023 Chartres St., 208-7998; www.shaunwilkerson.com) dressers, headboards, bookshelves and tables are infused with the inner warmth and fine gold veining endemic to quality wood. The solid pine and cypress pieces seem to breathe with the seasons, contracting in the winter and expanding in heat.
"Mostly, these are made with wood reclaimed from demolition sites and the bottom of Louisiana swamps," says Wilkerson, a furniture maker for 25 years. "More than 100 years ago, they clear cut all the Louisiana swampland — something you could never do now. Land was bought just for the timber, hundreds of acres. They'd float the logs to mills near Ponchatoula, Houma and so on, and a lot of times, the logs sank. Now they're so valuable, we're pulling them up."
For 10 years, Wilkerson has crafted furniture at the Chartres Street compound he shares with artist Dr. Bob, where an eclectic pastiche of paraphernalia (a mounted deer head, stacks of salvaged windows, a black school bus) and the constant whine of sanders are testament to their productivity. Most of Wilkerson's furniture is sold Uptown at Wilkerson Row, but Wilkerson opened the Chartres Street showroom this year because he wanted a retail presence in the Bywater.
"I've turned this shop into a venue to display all my new designs and inventions," Wilkerson says. "The Bywater is the hottest neighborhood in the city, and I wanted to have a presence here. People who come (to this location) are more destination-oriented. They're looking for something they can't find elsewhere."
His furniture is solidly built — so solidly, in fact, that many customers report Wilkerson's pieces were their only possessions to weather Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters unscathed — and flourished with an artistic eye. Antique tin ceiling tiles lend texture to a headboard. Curlicues hand-carved on a bookshelf are reminiscent of the lacy jigsaw work and spandrels of Victorian-era Creole cottages. It's not surprising to hear that Wilkerson looks to the city as his muse.
"New Orleans gives me the most provocative palette an artist could ask for — the music, the architecture, the attitude," Wilkerson says. "You ride through a New Orleans neighborhood, and you know you're in a New Orleans neighborhood. New Orleans has soul, and you can feel it, and that's what I think my furniture has."
Wilkerson handcrafts his furniture from salvaged cypress and pine.