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Furniture designer practices fine art

Small BusinessesBaltimore Convention CenterBaltimore Museum of ArtMaryland General Hospital

If you take a peek into furniture maker Bill Hergenroeder's shop in Cockeysville, you may be surprised at what you don't see: no computer-assisted drawings or other high-tech design aids. He prefers the simple life.

The concrete floor of his shop is splattered with old splotches of paint. Stacks of hand-drawn sketches, veneer outlines, screwdrivers and the occasional power drill are scattered around the small space, with just enough room for him to move about to work on his custom furniture creations.

The 60-year-old owner's solo venture, Hergenroeder Woodworking of Springwood Construction Inc., specializes in wood veneer and inlay pieces, some of which will be on display May 4-6 at the Fine Furnishings and Fine Craft Show at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

This is his third time as an exhibitor at the show, and Hergenroeder is excited about the new location, a change from the previous venue, the Baltimore Convention Center.

"It's in my backyard, near where most of my customers have come from for the last 15 years," says Hergenroeder.

He plans to exhibit several items, including end tables and storage cabinets. He will also show one of his favorite pieces, "Garden Dreams," a king-size, intricately detailed bed embellished with flowers. Retailing at about $12,000, the two-tone bed embodies the kind of work Hergenroeder says he enjoys most: marquetry.

Marquetry, the art of applying wood veneers to furniture to create detailed designs, shapes and patterns, dates back to the ancient Egyptians, who used rare and exotic woods to decorate thrones, chests and tombs.

Since taking up marquetry, Hergenroeder has used over 100 species of wood from around the world to create his veneers, some coming from as far away as the Congo, Sri Lanka, India, Africa and Indonesia.

"Inlay adds a bit of uniqueness to the piece," says Hergenroeder.

Using his marquetry and inlay design, he is able to reproduce traditional, Federal-style furniture similar to the ones on display at the Baltimore Museum of Art or the Maryland Historical Society. He also builds more modern pieces.

While Hergenroeder has a certain aptitude for creating these "art furniture or studio pieces," most of his business comes from custom built-ins.

Hergenroeder produces customized bookcases, shelving units, TV stands, armoires, beds, chests, tables and cabinet built-ins at prices ranging from about $6,000 to $13,000.

After consulting with the client and sketching the design, Hergenroeder builds 75 percent of the piece in his shop. The rest of the work is done inside the client's home, where he completes the assembly.

Although he has owned his own business for over 20 years, Hergenroeder never pictured himself as an entrepreneur — or a carpenter.

"I always wanted to go into a helping profession," says Hergenroeder, who graduated from the University of Maryland with a nursing degree in 1977 and worked as a medical-surgical nurse at Maryland General Hospital for a time. But he described the hospital work as "too fast-paced."

Coming from a large Northeast Baltimore family of eight brothers and sisters, Hergenroeder got his first taste of carpentry during his college and high school summers sweeping floors for a local construction company.

After leaving nursing, he worked as an apprentice for four years.

Branching out on his own on weekends, Hergenroeder got his first big job in the late 1980s. A family solicited him to design and build a large built-in bookcase for their home. Satisfied with the results, the family directed other clients to him. Word-of-mouth referrals are how he still gets customers.

After doing working on pieces in his parent's garage for some time, Hergenroeder branched out and started his own company. In 1986, he started W&S Hergenroeder Inc., but the decline in the economy of the early 1990s caused his business to fold.

Determined to start again, he founded Springwood Construction Inc. in 1993 and has been in business ever since.

"I like my independence," says Hergenroeder, who enjoys working alone and at his own pace.

On average, it takes him two weeks to complete a custom built-in project, depending on the size and design of the piece. Because he's not a fan of new technology Hergenroeder says, "I cannot compete with the world market, the mass-produced market. And I don't want to."

Like many small-business owners, Hergenroeder says the recent housing crash and economic decline drastically changed the shopping habits of his clientele.

"Wall Street's bad behavior spooked the consumers, and my kind of customer stopped spending money," he says.

Over the past five months, Hergenroeder says, he has seen an increase in small repair jobs. "It's not custom built-ins, but it's money," he says.

He's hopeful that ventures like the Fine Furnishings and Fine Craft Show will help boost his clientele.

Today, consumers "are a little less fearful of a breakdown in the world economy," he says. "But they are still scared to spend money on big-ticket luxury items."

Bill Hergenroeder

Background: A native Baltimorean, Bill Hergenroeder is the owner, designer and sole furniture maker of Hergenroeder Woodworking of Springwood Construction Inc.

Education: University of Maryland

Where to buy: Hergenroeder insists on making one-of-a-kind pieces. Most of his furniture is designed and made to order. Clients can visit his Cockeysville shop for a look at his portfolio and a consultation. Call 410-666-5805 for an appointment.

Fine Furnishings Show

See exhibitors from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio and Maryland at the fourth annual Fine Furnishings and Fine Crafts Show on May 4-6 at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Road, Timonium.

Offering American made, handcrafted furniture and accessories, "It is kind of a furniture mall: anchor stores, midsize stores and specialty stores," says founder Karla Little.

During the weekend, you can shop for furniture pieces, place custom orders and catch artisans in live demonstrations. Pieces vary from small cash-and-carry items like cabinets, tools and office chairs to larger, more ornate items.

The show offers free parking, a new perk since relocating this year from the Baltimore Convention Center. Visitors can also register for prizes made by exhibitors. The grand prize is a walnut and quarter-sawn white oak hall table by Richard Hoffstedt of Cherry Canyon Designs valued at $1,200.

Hours are 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, May 4; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 5; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 6. Admission is $10 for one day or $15 for two days. Children under age 12 are free. For more details, go to FineFurnishingsShows.com or call 401-816-0963.

— Krishana Davis

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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