During a tour of a home in Kent County that would be a Chestertown House of the Week, I admired the graceful stair to the second floor. The 2” diameter cap of curly cherry wood had a 45 degree turn from the upper landing to the straight run to the floor below. As it passed the last stair tread, the wood cap became a semicircle before it came to rest at the newel post. Very thin ½” vertical brass rod spindles reminded me of a string instrument and Goethe’s famous quote “Architecture is Frozen Music” came to my mind as I resisted the urge to gently strum the spindles. The owner proudly told me Vicco von Voss designed the stair hand rail and his first step was to ask her and her husband to cup their hands so he could take their measurements to determine the diameter that would be most comfortable for them. She demonstrated how her hand fit over the handrail like a hand in a glove. I was also awed by the superb craftsmanship of the handrail’s 45 degree turn with its outside mitered corner that was seamless.
Another House of the Week had stunning timber framing with column supports whose sleek forms of tree trunk and branches devoid of bark, sanded and stained once again bore Vicco von Voss’ signature. Clearly, it was time to meet the master. Before my appointment with Vicco von Voss, I visited his website to familiarize myself with his other work and I was fascinated by his creative range, sometimes using ordinary pieces of wood that became, in his talented hands, works of art. His portfolio includes millwork, sculpture, seating, sideboards, shelves and timber framing. One of the illustrations featured on his website is a commission for a shelf that started its life as a piece of curly maple, with a natural hole at one end. How to turn a flat piece of wood into a three-dimensional piece of sculpture? Vicco met the challenge and the knothole led to the evolution of the “L” shaped ribbon design. He cut many individual segments and joined them to form the curve for the transition from the top horizontal element to the falling vertical element. After successfully jointing all the individual pieces, the surfaces and edges were carefully carved and the result is a fluid effect, as if a breeze floated over a piece of fabric.
Vicco’s work is rooted in his belief that relationships are crucial. He has a Zen connection to trees as living things and his keen understanding of the unique inherent design possibilities for each piece of wood’s design flows through his collaboration with his clients. As a designer, his goal for each commission is to exceed his client’s expectations and to create a custom piece that is in harmony with their home environment.
To Vicco, each tree has its own story, just as each book in unique. The grain and color of a finished piece reflects the story of a particular tree that has been subject to the fickleness of weather, proximity of nearby trees, amount of sunlight, pests, etc. These factors all influence the grain patterns that are not apparent until the wood is cut. Vicco is a “Tree Listener” who respects the tree’s past life of its shape and branches as he gives it a new life as a functional object that will be treasured by its new custodians.
Vicco was born in Kiel, Germany and design permeates his DNA. One grandfather was a forester and woodcarver; another was an architect who had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright in post-war Germany. Vicco received a degree in Fine Art from Chestertown’s Washington College in 1991. During his college years, he was the Assistant Waterfront Director for the restoration and conservation of wooden boats. After graduation, Vicco returned to Germany for a three-year apprenticeship in carpentry in Hamburg, Germany, under the tutelage of Heinrich Meyerfeldt. His apprenticeship introduced him to contemporary furniture making that enabled him to combine traditional wood joinery methods with contemporary design as unique as the tree from which each design sprung. At the end of his apprenticeship, he graduated Summa cum Laude in Theoretical and Practical Exams.
In 1995, he returned to Chestertown and set up his own studio, Bolz Shop, for custom work. To date, his designs have been part of twenty-two exhibitions in the US and Germany and the subject of numerous local, regional and national publications. He is also in demand as a speaker to organizations and conferences.
On the day I visited Bolz Shop, I was fascinated to have the opportunity of seeing three commissions in various stages of completion. Each piece was crafted of a different wood that Vicco carefully chose for its function. The first was furniture for a dining room. Vicco chose black walnut with live edges for the undulating thick slabs that will be the benches, end chairs and tabletop. The tabletop will have a poured resin insert to infill the center opening. The second piece was a desk of curly maple with two curved file drawers at each end with the curved ends facing each other and the left one resting against a side panel. My favorite piece was a sensuous curvilinear bench of Osage Orange wood. Vicco selected this wood species for its flexibility of indoor or outdoor use. The elegance of the curvature is stabilized by the end panel of walnut that becomes a head rest just waiting for a modern day Madame Recamier to recline against.
Against one wall of the shop were 15 foot tall thick slabs of walnut that will soon become stair landings for the stacked wood treads awaiting their final position on a floating stair to be installed at a Chestertown restaurant. I was fascinated by the chalk marks on the works in progress so they become full scale models for fine tuning. Vicco also uses transparent tracing paper for making patterns just like a master tailor uses to cut fabric. This master wood artisan tests and refines the tracing paper pattern before he is satisfied he is ready to cut the wood.
Outside the Bolz Shop, stacks of wood await cutting and drying and a pile of waste wood will be used in the winter for fuel so nothing in the production process is wasted. The architecture of the Bolz Shop evokes the rural Eastern Shore vernacular with its center three story bay with clerestories along its long sides above one-story curved burgundy colored metal shed roofs. Vicco gave me a tour of Bolz Shop’s expansion that will contain a drive-through breezeway connecting the existing building to another building for dry storage and wood storage.
As I left the studio, I noticed a charming path with a portal of wood branches forming an arc. Next to the portal was a beehive on top of a tree trunk that had once been the home of the bees and they seemed quite content with their new home. Further along the path I glimpsed the residence that Vicco built for his family that will be a future Spy house of the Week. As an architect I am always fascinated by another creative person’s design process and as I left I reflected upon how lucky our area is to have this innovative and creative Master of Wood.
For more information about Vicco von Voss and Bolz Shop, visit their website www.viccovonvoss.com and prepare to be amazed by their extraordinary portfolio. To schedule an appointment for a custom piece, call 410-708-4698 or email email@example.com.