Bill Gardner likes things built to last.
The Frederick resident is the owner of William John Gardner Design Studio, a shop specializing in custom furniture for interior designers and architects.
“I am building what I call heirloom-quality, sustainable furniture for people with design-conscious minds,” he said.
One of Gardner’s favorite pieces is a round side table he designed on a napkin while he was out having a beer with a friend. Its size and shape lend to a variety of uses, he said, and he enjoyed seeing the product develop from a rough sketch to a functional piece.
“It’s just well-scaled, well-proportioned durable furniture,” he said.
He has also worked on challenging pieces for clients such as a huge 54-by-54-inch coffee table and a porch swing.
Gardner’s interest in furniture has a long history. His father and uncles were carpenters, which inspired him and gave him an opportunity to get comfortable with tools.
“I’ve always built things,” he said. “I’ve definitely had a hammer in my hand from an early age.”
Because of that background, he was well-acquainted with tools before college, which is when his passion for furniture design developed.
Gardner studied architecture at Virginia Tech but switched his major to industrial design because he found designing furniture better suited him.
“I developed this love of it. It was always kind of a passion and a dream of mine,” he said.
The 37-year-old designer didn’t open his own shop until well after college.
He opened the studio about a year and a half ago, he said.
For a while, he designed door systems for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and worked for a Frederick architect.
His business partner, Sandra Steele, said the two started the company partly because they noticed a lack of high-quality furniture in the design market.
“I think one of the overarching reasons for a custom furniture house,” she said, “(is that) you can’t find good-quality furnishings in the marketplace. ... We knew there was great growth within the interior design community.”
Going into business for himself was good, Gardner said, because it offered more control over his work. However, it was also nerve-wracking because of the added responsibility and the need to handle aspects of the company himself.
“You can’t afford to build (furniture) twice, so you have to build it right the first time,” he said.
He has the support of a team of artisans to help complete his projects. When he needs a woodworker or finisher, for example, he will hire one from the group of specialists with whom he has developed relationships.
Working with a team allows him to turn around projects more quickly and efficiently, he said, adding that doing the work himself can be limiting sometimes.
Steele handles sales, marketing and project management aspects of the company. The two have learned quite a bit from each other, she said.
“I think Bill has taught me a lot about partnering and facilitating growth,” she said.
Future plans for the company include working on his own line of furniture, Gardner said, to expand into the retail market.
“I could be very happy being the head of a 20-person company,” he said, “banging out good furniture and lighting left and right.”
Follow Kelsi Loos on Twitter: @KelsiFNP.
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