Geoffrey Keating is a furniture maker, specializing in what he calls “contemporary antique” designs.
“I like older pieces, because they’re not cold. They have a warmth to them. But I modernize them for today’s taste and customer,” he says in a chat from his woodworking studio in Colorado Springs, which aptly dates back to 1897.
Geoffrey Keating’s furniture design includes an offering of chairs, dining tables, hutches, and side tables, which are made to last. “If we talk about sustainability, then that’s the best thing,” he says. “This furniture that you can give to your kids, and grandkids. And that’s what my customers are asking for when they come to me — the design and the durability.” Karen Howes, a London-based interior decorator, previously featured on Inhabit, echoed this outlook on sustainability. She told us, “In interior decor, sustainability is using materials and crafting spaces that last a long time. That’s how we’re going to do less damage to our planet. A misconception is that the wealthy can and want to just swap out decors. In actuality, most want heritage pieces that can be passed down.”
A single man operation, Geoffrey Keating’s business is doing just that, and reviving the art of carpentry. His pieces bring heritage and modernity to classic American silhouettes. Using claro and black walnut, cherry, and ash woods, sourced from Wisconsin and the Pacific Northwest, each piece is handmade by Keating in his shop, employing joints that lace together layers of wood using dowels and a Lego-like design of grooves and nooks, not nails. The woods are not only American, but also sustainably sourced, or repurposed waste wood, often chopped down to build new developments.Keating himself is a bit of an old soul. He listens to Dickens novels while he sands and saws all day long in his studio. “I feel like some of my furniture could actually fit into a Dickensian setting,” he says.
Three years ago, he moved from South Bend, Indiana to Colorado, and opted for a late 19th century building for his home-cum-studio. “Downstairs, there used to be a grocer, now it’s my studio. I love being in a space with such history,” he says. Upstairs, he lives with his wife and children. “It’s humble, but also a very efficient workplace. It lets me drop down into the studio at night after the children have slept, and be creative at odd hours.”
Geoffrey Keating comes from five generations of woodworkers. But he chose a different path. “I didn’t invest in it as a child, learning the trade, as much as I should have,” he says regretfully. His forefathers built churches in West Texas and Arkansas: it was functional carpentry, built also intricate detailing on pews, alters, and doorways that illustrated their skills. Keating’s uncle continued the family tradition till the early 90s. Keating, however, set off to Yale and then Notre Dame, studying religion. “The goal was to be a professor. I loved the idea of running a classroom and interacting with students,” he says.
Yet, the reality of an academic life meant less time in class and more time in solitary research, writing papers, which didn’t satisfy him. Meanwhile, as a grad student, he would tinker with projects on the side, building the odd chair or table for friends and professors at Notre Dame. “Then it dawned on me that I should probably be doing this full time. The beauty of making something with your hands was really alluring.”
In 2011, when his work started getting attention, landing up on popular design blogs, he opted for woodworking over academia, but he never quite left behind his love for classrooms. As Notre Dame would dump out its old furniture to make room for the new, Keating showed up to collect the discarded pieces. He took them apart, adding soft touches of classic Americana to his designs — a few drawers with mid-century hardware or apothecary drawers stacked on top of each other appeared in desks, hutches, and side tables.
Keating’s furniture designs are essentially bespoke. “I only have a limited number of these treasures from the past, so I can only do so many pieces until I run out and then have to rethink the design,” he says. His furniture starts at $1,200 and can run up to $10,000 a piece.
Designing, building, and finishing each piece by hand is not only a laborious process, Keating says, but a lengthy one as well. Some take a few weeks, others can take months. In fact, his wait times are, well, quite the wait: anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to complete a project.
“It’s just me. And I work from 6 am to 5 pm straight, nearly every day of the week,” he notes. While Keating does take on the occasional apprentice from Colorado Springs college, he’s a true artist, longing for his freedom.
There’s something really simple, and liberating, about being alone in the shop, and letting your mind focus on the craft, not distracted by other responsibilities, he says. “It’s also not that glamorous – a reminder that good craftsmanship takes time and patience.”
Photo credit: Studio photography by Abby Mortenson. Product by Matt Cashore.