by Jesma Reynolds
photographs by Liz Condo
Functional, simple, beautiful. Those are words longtime friends Michael Everhart, 31, and Will Stanley, 32, use to describe the furniture they build under the name Five Fork Studio in Chapel Hill. For the past five years, the two have melded their interests in woodworking and welding to create custom pieces that emphasize clean lines and basic design.
Everhart’s enthusiasm for woodworking was sparked when he and his wife purchased a home with a detached workshop that lured him. He started building things there, tinkering around in his free time when he wasn’t working as a carpenter in house construction. At the same time, Stanley had moved back home after graduate school and was trying his hand at welding. After honing their skills through hours of YouTube videos and online forums, the two decided to dovetail their abilities to make and sell custom furniture crafted from wood and steel. They named their studio for the road where Stanley grew up in Orange County. “We liked it because it was vague and esoteric enough.”
Today they stay busy making tables, stools, benches, wine racks, desks, speakers, cabinets, cutting boards, and anything else that their materials may suit. They have also completed commercial installations including a pair of giant barn doors for a conference room and wooden wall hangings.
The aesthetic of all their pieces is decidedly utilitarian. “We try to accentuate the natural beauty of whatever we are working on,” says Everhart. Wood that is reclaimed or sourced regionally is often oil-rubbed; forged steel is typically custom-coated or laser-cut. A recent dining table project incorporated a pair of 40-inch by 8-foot sycamore slabs with live edges that were “book matched” to highlight the symmetry of the grain. Stanley shaped two trapezoidal leg pieces of steel to support the massive top, creating a light and airy base that’s still strong enough to “park a car on top.”
Clients come from far away and nearby. The uniqueness of each project they bring sometimes leads to unexpected discoveries, as when Everhart was milling a piece of cherry and his table saw cut through a bullet lodged in the wood: The tree had at some point been shot. He decided the bisected slug could be turned into a set of permanent drink coasters, as well as a reminder of the tree’s past.
Turning raw materials into beautiful and functional pieces for everyday life is the backbone of their business, after all, and has been since they had the imagination to turn their separate hobbies into a joint career. As Yogi Berra once said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”