Cochran family’s award-winning Wood Studio near Smith Lake builds functional, beautiful furniture.
At first blush, a remote patch of woods near the shore of Smith Lake seems an unlikely spot for an award-winning furniture studio. But the Cochran family had reasons both practical and sentimental to move Wood Studio from Nashville to rural Winston County in 2005.
It was a way to escape big-city rents yet stay in range of clients in Nashville, Birmingham and beyond. It wasn’t far from Decatur, where brothers Keith and Dylan Cochran grew up helping their father, Randy, in his backyard woodworking shop. And Keith already lived in the area, where his wife, Allison, is a wildlife biologist for Bankhead National Forest.
Just as important were shared memories of good times on the lake.
“We’d spend weekends at Smith Lake camping and fishing and swimming,” Keith recalls. “We’d always have a canoe or a bass boat. It was close to home but seemed so different.”
Inside Alabama's award-winning Wood Studio from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.
“Decatur’s pretty flat, and I grew up in Fort Payne, looking at mountains,” adds Randy. “I was delighted to discover the hills and woods of Bankhead and Smith Lake. To me, Smith Lake looks like Little River Canyon with a cork put in it!”
The natural setting complements Wood Studio’s organic aesthetic. Crafted from air-dried Southern hardwoods, the clean-lined designs are both functional and beautiful. They appear to have evolved to their essence, like woodland creatures.
“I like to tinker with something for a long time to get it right,” Randy admits. “I’ve always admired the simplicity of how nature puts something together. If you want gewgaws on something, I can’t do that. I’ve always aspired to simple elegance.”
He certainly achieved that with the lauded Lookout Mountain rocking chair. The oil-rubbed, brass-pinned, mortise-and-tenon frame suspends a taut leather seat and back, the whole resting at a jaunty, inviting angle.
“I designed it to rock the boys in when they were babies,” Randy
says. “The initial design was more square, then it became more rounded and tapered.”
He made it for his own satisfaction, not to put in production. But in 2001, soon after Keith and Dylan became partners in the Nashville shop, 9/11 hit and business fell off sharply.
“A friend suggested showing the rocker to the Sundance Catalog,” Randy says. “They picked it up and sold quite a few of them – it kept
In 2012, the handsome rocker won top honors in Garden & Gun magazine’s Made in the South Awards.
Wood Studio is housed in a Quonset hut the Cochrans erected and finished themselves (with a few friends helping, like an old—fashioned barn-raising). Father and sons — all Auburn University grads — like to work out designs by hand, in the shop, but also know their way around a computer-aided design (CAD) program.
“I majored in business but had as many hours in industrial design,” Randy says. “I sent Keith to college to finish my degree.”
Keith majored in industrial design, then learned new skills as a boat-builder in Florida. Dylan majored in wildlife management, but “didn’t see a long-term career in it,” he says. “Building something tangible is very
satisfying, and so is building a small business.”
On the walls of the studio hang old saws, a canoe and works by artist friends (a portrait of Hank Williams hangs next to one of Bear Bryant). Under the vaulted steel roof, Keith and Dylan turn out the Lookout Mountain rocker and other signature pieces, such as the Wills Valley stool, in big and small versions, and the Beersheba (pronounced burshba) porch swing, based on a traditional design from Beersheba Springs, an old Tennessee resort town.
“We do two versions of it — traditional with turned spindles and a more contemporary one with plain spindles,” Randy says. Though now more occupied with the studio’s business side, he’s still the only one who makes his Crane chair, a demanding design at once earthy and lyrical.
The shop also stays busy with work commissioned for residential or commercial projects. “We’ve done cabinetry, bars, museum displays, dining tables and more,” says Keith. “We can do the design or work with architects and designers. We draw everything out on CAD but it comes down to knowing how to build it
“Something in my gut told me the boys would somehow carry on what I started,” Randy says. “And it’s gratifying to see it happen. It’s a real pleasure to listen to them and hear the lessons that I had to learn and tried to teach them come back. And to see the talent they’re showing. They can make pretty much anything they can imagine.”
“We make furniture that’s beautiful but also functional — it’s meant to be used, and to last for generations,” Keith says. “It’s hard work but very fulfilling. We’re always learning. At this point there’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
— Jeff Book
Want to know more about Wood Studio? Visit them online at www.woodstudio.com.
See Wood Studio furniture at the Southern Makers show in Montgomery, April 30-May 1 www.southernmakers.com