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Mark Melonas

Mark MelonasOn a chilly early spring day, Mark Melonas’ cavernous furniture workshop, an old General Motors warehouse in Waverly, is filled with the scent of freshly cut wood. One of his employees puts the final touches on a sleek, oak baptismal font destined for a Federal Hill church. It is part of a full altar set for which his company, Luke Works, is even fashioning the contemporary stainless-steel candlesticks. In a back room there is a small sample of blue resin, left over from a fountain the company made, and in another section of the warehouse a worker puts together the mold for a concrete countertop that will be part of an entertainment center for a private home.

“It’s almost hard to classify [what we do] because we do so much,“says Melonas, his breath making white puffs in the chill warehouse air. “It’s not a matter of ‘Can you make this?’ as it is, ‘What’s the best way to make this?’ The form just needs to be realized.”

To call Melonas a furniture maker would be limiting. He works in metal, concrete and wood, and focuses on using renewable, sustainably harvested materials. Luke Works can make just about anything, from a bamboo vanity with molded concrete tops, to decorative concrete walls or an avante-garde picnic table made of walnut, set into an aluminum frame. Luke Works’ artistry can be seen in homes from Hampden to Canton, in Belvedere Square’s Taste restaurant, and in the renovated offices of the Urbanite.

“People read Metropolitan Home and they get Dwell magazine, but they don’t know where to get those things they see,“says Melonas. “It’s fun to offer people those contemporary products.”

Mark Melonas sinkAt just 30 years old, Melonas is an enterprising artist who built Luke Works the same way he builds furniture— from conception to completion. Like all his employees, Melonas is a multi-disciplined artist. He is a sculptor— and teaches it at the Baltimore School for the Arts— with a master’s in fine arts from the University of Massachusetts in artisanry with a specialty in furniture. When he returned to his home state with his wife, he apprenticed under Columbia-based furniture maker John Calvin for a short time. But he wanted to be his own boss. When he opened Luke Works in 2001 (“Luke”is a nickname from college), it was a one-man operation. Now he has three full-time employees and two part time.

Architect Brian Swanson of Swanson Design in Stevenson, Md., gave Melonas some of his first large-scale home interior projects. “Mark has a great sense of detail,“says Swanson, explaining that Melonas has a talent for seeing how his element will fit into the design as a whole. “He’s fundamentally an artist, yet he moves into cabinetry and metalwork that’s utilitarian. But that artistry and sense of perfection comes through those functional pieces.”

Melonas can work off sketches, architect plans, the whims of clients— anything to make vision a solid form. “It’s a cooperative, artistic process, bringing together the client’s wants with our larger capabilities,“he explains.

According to Swanson, Melonas’ meticulous approach to custom projects brings something unique to contemporary design—time. “In this day in age when everyone’s rushing around, Mark slows the world down a bit,“he says. “His is a craft, and artistry takes time.”

Melonas says that while something as simple as a coffee table could be turned around quickly, projects like the church altar take weeks. The average concrete countertop takes about 21 days. “We get so used to going to Ikea and everything is right there,“says Melonas. “The idea that you can have something new and innovative that will be there for a hundred years is really fun.”— Christianna McCausland

Luke Works, 2321 Homewood Ave., 410-366-6161, http://www.lukeworks.com. Studio open by appointment only.

Vicco von Voss

Vicco von VossFor Chestertown furniture designer Vicco von Voss, everything originates in the woods. It’s where he lives, where he finds his raw materials and where he discovers the inspiration for his creations. His bond to his adopted Eastern Shore home is almost palpable as German-born von Voss describes the beauty of the native maple, walnut, cherry and ginkgo trees from whose timber he fashions furniture— high-back chairs, coffee tables, music stands, meditation stools— in a style he calls “European influenced but contemporary.”

“Our trees— they’re the reason I’m here,“says von Voss, 37. “Their shapes and forms, which are already provided by nature, are what inspire me. Then all you have to do is open your eyes and reinterpret what you’ve been given.”

Von Voss works only from felled wood— trees that have been blown over or already cut. When he was starting out, he would forage for such specimens, but these days he’s so well-known that he gets almost-weekly calls from people inviting him to come by and look at felled trees on their property. In one special case, he made an exception to his rule of using only felled wood.

“About three years ago, a couple in Oxford, Md., called me to come look at a tree on their property that had to come down because it was rotting and endangering their house,“he says. “It was the biggest yellowwood tree in the state of Maryland— 11 feet 2 inches in circumference, 56 feet tall, with a 77-foot spread. I climbed the tree and marked where I wanted it cut. The tree company felled the tree and I came in with a chainsaw and milled it on the spot— it took a week because it was so big.“After the wood cured, von Voss created a conference table for the couple.

Just as haute couture is designed around high-quality fabrics, often von Voss’ clients choose a piece of wood from those on display in his studio and come up with a project based on it. “Sometimes they’re inspired by a piece of wood, and sometimes they come to me with a project and we select a piece of wood,“he says. “Every piece is so unique.”

Evident in von Voss’ furniture design are whimsy, grace and even an art deco appeal. His reputation has spread by word of mouth, and now his designs,— commissions ranging from $1,000 to $20,000— can be found in homes across the country. In the past few years, people have started coming to von Voss, saying, “We don’t know what we want, but we want a piece of yours. That just happened recently, and finally the couple decided on a porch swing and I drew a design for one. It’s a pretty unique porch swing.”

Vicco von Voss deskOne of his favorite creations is a desk that he calls a “computer haven. I designed it while I was doing my apprenticeship but didn’t have the skills to build it. It took 10 years of being a craftsman to learn how,“he says. “About two years ago, a client came to me saying, ‘I want a computer desk and I want it to be a masterpiece.’ I said, ‘I’ve already designed it.’”

In the past few years, von Voss has devoted much of his time to building his own house— a 1,200-square-foot post-and-beam home in Queen Anne’s County, all made from salvaged wood, of course. “It’s the same process of designing and milling, all the steps I use in my furniture. But it’s working with big pieces of wood, which is fun,“says von Voss. “And I really enjoy getting to work outside under the open sky.“Just as in his furniture, von Voss says he’s using timbers to organically express a certain feeling in various spaces in the home, which he built in four sections and then raised with a crane— with the help of 50 people a la an old-fashioned barn raising.

Von Voss first discovered Chestertown the way many do— through Washington College, where he spent four years studying design under painter Susan Tessem, whose clean, linear lines have influenced his own work. After graduating in 1991, von Voss returned to Germany to apprentice with expert cabinetmaker Heinrich Meyerfeldt, but the creative tides— and the trees— of the Chesapeake region lured him back in 1995. Over the course of his career, his belief in using felled wood evolved into the bedrock philosophy it is today.

“I believe that we have been given this natural resource but there’s so much of it that’s felled, why kill a live tree? Hand in hand with that, I believe a tree is a living being. A tree has a soul,“he says. “It’s that philosophy that draws people to me, to my work.”&mdash Ellen Uzelac with Laura Wexler

Vicco von Voss Furniture Design, 312 Cannon St., Chestertown, Md., 410-810-0267, http://www.viccovonvoss.com

Russell & Mackenna

Kevin Russell & Mackenna RussellTo mark their third wedding anniversary, Kevin Russell built his wife, Lauren, a mailbox featuring a charmingly childlike white-painted wooden fish. Now that simple fish shape is echoed in the Island Side Shelf, one of roughly 40 designs manufactured by the couple’s furniture company, Russell & Mackenna.

The company began nearly three years ago as a family affair and has remained so. Lauren, a former art director at the Cyphers Agency, an advertising agency in Annapolis, is the head designer, and Kevin, a one-time investment counselor for T. Rowe Price and former hobbyist furniture maker, is in charge of manufacturing. Lauren’s father, Larry Strassner, serves as the operations manager. As for the name, “Russell & Russell just didn’t have a very good ring to it,“Lauren says. Mackenna is the middle name of their daughter Sawyer, who was just a few months old when the company began.

The pieces are inspired by and designed for coastal living. “In our first house, we had fish everywhere. I was just always drawn to fish,“Lauren says. “It wasn’t extremely deliberate at first, but now it is an extremely deliberate part of our strategy.”

In fact, it was the coastal-centric Wave Hall Table— complete with its Shaker-inspired design, sand dollar detail and three of Russell & Mackenna’s infamous fish finials— that jump-started the company’s success when it caught the attention of an editor at Coastal Living magazine in March 2005. These days, all of the Hanover, Md., company’s retailers are found along the East Coast, with dealers from Northeast Harbor, Maine, to Palm Beach, Fla.

The design of each piece is marked by simplicity with a twist: the solid wood furniture has a timeless, functional design, which is then paired with funky finials, vivid color choices and an array of aquatic details. Typically, Lauren spends just one hour designing a piece and one business day converting that design into a building plan. After that, a prototype is built in about four to six weeks.

Wave pink deskThe bright colors and whimsical details have proven to be popular for children’s rooms, as well as beach houses. Retired Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez recently ordered a set of Wave Beds and a wave dresser in a custom color for his daughters’ bedroom in his Tampa, Fla., home.

Custom color is not reserved for just celebrity clients. If Russell & Mackenna’s 15 vibrant, lacquer-finish paint colors— with beachy titles like Key West Teal, White Linen and Sunrise— do not suit, clients are free to request an original hue. The company’s signature finials, cut-outs and monograms can also be customized— giving clients a variety of mix-and-match options.

Erin and Sean O’Donovan were Russell & Mackenna’s first clients. In addition to ordering some of the company’s standard pieces such as bathroom vanities, the Island Side Shelf and the Wave Bed for their home on the Severn River, Lauren also designed some custom-made pieces for the O’Donovan family, including sea-themed cut-outs for a table and chair set in their son Seamus’ room. “I’m very minimalistic,“Erin says. “The lines are really clean and simple, and that’s what we were going for.”

Lauren designs new pieces based on seasonal changes and market demands. For her latest designs, Lauren has added signature touches, including a wider variety of finial and monogram shapes that appeal to both coastal and what she calls “land-locked”living.

As Russell & Mackenna grows, it maintains both its local flair, with its suppliers all in the Mid-Atlantic region, as well as its family-centered atmosphere, which Lauren treasures. “Everyone’s so supportive of one another,“she says. “There really aren’t politics involved, and everyone’s pulling for the same goal.” —Annliese Scott

Russell & Mackenna, 7190 Parkway Drive, Hanover, Md., 866-366-3505, http://www.russellmackenna.com

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