Jason Straw’s Attention to Material
With a name that alludes to a natural material, the fact that Gainesville-based craftsman Jason Straw works with the natural material of wood imbues his story with poetry and purpose. Straw’s woodwork — from cabinetry to libraries and vanities to furniture — is very clearly crafted with precision and a mastery of his material. His process is customized in every way, and held to high standards of quality, locality, environmental stewardship, and expertise. His aesthetic is modern and contemporary, as defined mainly by his adherence to the integrity of, you guessed it, his material.
“Modernism for me is the practice of minimizing, taking away, showing the planning, craft, precision and execution without the distraction,” says Straw. “The subtle refinement of this art expresses the silent qualities of honest materials.” When you see the work of someone who holds this view of modernism, it is less about overall style and more about details. There is a clarity to clean lines, and a richness to unmitigated and artistically composed planes of wood grain, that can fit into almost any environment. Straw has created commercial and residential kitchens, casework (think shelving and storage), and furniture for varied custom projects throughout Florida.
Straw’s interest in woodworking began with experience in historic home remodeling. His particular fascination with furniture making led to a two-year apprenticeship under studio furniture makers and two years of education at a renowned furniture school. “Attending a high caliber program allowed me to explore and experiment with different techniques such as carving, marquetry, traditional joinery, and veneer work,” he says. “It gave me a space for the relentless pursuit of perfect craftsmanship.” Straw calls this an elusive chase, but seeks perfection nonetheless. His website describes a thoughtful process of collaboration with each client and their particular space, as well as applied knowledge of the idiosyncrasies and stylistic possibilities of wood. “We want to work with clients who care about craftsmanship, who want quality to be a part of their lives, are tired of the mass-produced commodity interiors, and are predominately interested in the modern aesthetic,” says Straw.
Through his work, Straw is also on a demonstrative mission to shift perceptions of wood veneer. Using a time-honored, European tradition of sawing wood veneer and applying it artistically, Straw shows that this technique can be the farthest cry from cheaply made, disposable furniture that most of us associate with wood veneers. Not only can using veneers enhance and elevate the natural designs in woodgrain, but Straw says it helps reduce the effects of potentially harmful movement that is inherent to wood structures, especially in humid environments like Florida’s.
Expanding his initial furniture design work to the design and installation of full rooms is simply a scaling up of the processes that Straw has honed. “With fine furniture, we deal a lot with wood grain composition, visual weights, patterns, color, etc.,” says Straw. “When we work on kitchens, libraries, or casework, we operate with the same philosophies and practice the same techniques and attention to detail, just on a larger scale.” One particularly interesting project saw the intersection of Straw’s cumulative experience. The original Dean of Architecture at the University of Florida needed new kitchen cabinetry for his renovated historic home. The home had been sensitively updated in keeping with its original state, so the kitchen needed to be modernized without looking anachronistic. Straw’s extensive knowledge of wood species and historic design led to a stunning and distinctive kitchen using the same wood — Macassar ebony — as the home’s floors and exposed beams. (You can view this kitchen and many others on Straw’s website, in the portfolio section: https://strawwoodwork.com/portfoliosets/custom-kitchen-cabinets/.)
Two years ago, Straw embarked on a large personal project, designing and building a new wood shop and showroom for Straw & Company Fine Custom Woodwork. He says the ability to create this shop specifically for his work affords he and his apprentices and students the space and the tools to create and compete at the highest level. “We are able to work on multiple projects at once,” he says. “We now have a working showroom where visitors can come experience our work, aesthetic, and learn about the materials and our process.”
Straw’s projects have grown in size and number, but he approaches all of his work with the sensitive eyes and hands of a fine furniture maker. In keeping with the most skilled artisans, who know their medium wholly and intimately, Straw’s work celebrates his chosen material. Working with a large variety of woods, ranging from local, recovered river cypress to African Black Limba wood, Straw’s designs truly embody function and beauty. Indeed, wood, with its characteristic warmth, has the ability to appear both humble and distinguished. It becomes modern art at the hands of a craftsman like Straw.
Straw & Company Fine Custom Woodwork, 900 SE 5th St., Gainesville, FL, (352) 371-3571, strawwoodwork.com.