This is my friend Vladimir, a master woodworker in Vancouver who is originally from Moscow. I feel that local craftspeople like Vlad who produce one-of-a-kind objects and high-level custom work do not get enough press. This is unfair, especially considering how often their work is superior, both technically and aesthetically, to anything mass-produced or even to work by boutique woodwork companies. Years ago I promised Vlad I’d take photos of the many things he has custom-built for my place, and as well as sending him the photos, I’ve just decided to post them publicly here. His projects at my place are completed now (mainly because I ran out of money), and I miss his dry observations. “SHUT UP & FISH” is a lot funnier in a Russian accent, and in Vlad’s case it’s infinitely more ironic. And I don’t mean ironic in the sense that he talks while he’s working. He doesn’t, though once after noticing a Bulgakov novel at my place he did give an impromptu political and literary dissertation on Bulgakov without even pausing in what he was building. (“Leensey, you are not understanding that book in translation, no way.”) Another day I was sort of ineffectively helping him with a building project at my place when he stopped and said “Vot wrong? You look tie-erd.” I said raccoons had kept me up all night, fighting outside my bedroom window. He paused, looked at me with exaggerated patience as if I were a child, and just said “Leensy” and shook his head. Then added “dat ees not fie-itting.” A faint smile ten seconds later.
Everything had to be done on a small budget which meant Vlad had to be resourceful with methods and materials. The woods are a combination of maple veneer plywood, a few bits of solid eastern white maple, cheap spruce plywood and whatever else was on hand. Above you can see the deceptively simple entrance to the building’s main bathroom, including steps, shelves and a tall built-in cupboard. (It used to be a sort of boiler room, so it’s down a few steps at ground level.) Vlad had to work around existing obstacles such as old floorboards, a hatch leading down to a small basement, the old stair structure, and other odd features. It was Vlad’s brainwave to sink the tall wardrobe into the 6-inch-deep walls of the building in order to keep it from blocking the steps down to the bathroom. The shelves behind the door are sunk into the wall too. The whole thing is much more complicated than it looks. Notice that thanks to Vlad’s craftsmanship, these abnormally tall cupboard doors are still entirely un-warped, even after many years in a humid bathroom.
Below is a giant rolling wardrobe for the front hall, co-designed with Vlad and built by him. It’s 8-feet wide and has interior drawers and clothing rails. It has multiple functions—it’s a coat cupboard, but it’s also a pony wall that provides privacy from the street. In the photo below, what lies behind the wardrobe are a small vestibule and the front doors which open almost directly onto the sidewalk. If I had the front doors open for air, people used to just stand out there on the sidewalk and stare in, which felt creepy. Now when you look into the building, all you see is the wooden back of this cabinet. The back (see the photo with the target artwork) is faced in two pieces of unpainted baltic birch plywood. White was too stark at the entrance.
You can’t tell, but the whole unit is in fact two units bolted together (the doors are cleverly designed to hide this). It’s so large that it had to built in two pieces so that it could be moved into (and if necessary out of) the building (for events, movie shoots, etc.). Each of the two sections sits on 4 high-grade casters, for a total of 8. Bolted together, the whole thing is easily rolled by one person, if I ever need to free up the entrance or to vacuum, or just for a change. The whole thing fits just as easily against a wall, and is designed to just fit through the doors to the bedroom. This is the kind of object that must be custom-made, because it simply doesn’t exist on the market.
Vlad has also built many other things not pictured here, including a number of impossible-to-find secret compartments. He suggested these whenever he found a suitable place for one, which was quite often. For your documents! Finally I began to say “look, Vlad, I don’t need any more secret compartments. I don’t have that much else to hide, I only have the one passport, and I don’t have a gun.” Then he’d smile and say “but you could get one.” This is only funny if you know Vlad, who’s pacifist and is aware that I am too.
Below, steps, ramp and storage in the textile studio. The ramp fits onto the maple steps but can easily be removed. To make the storage unit cheaper, we used solid wood drawers/cabinets from IKEA and added custom drawer fronts, cabinet doors and a custom top, and cheap wooden handles from Lee Valley Tools.
This post is a thank you to Vladimir for such painstaking work and for all the Russian-inflected entertainment. For evidence of Vlad’s patience, see here. In case Vancouverites are wondering, he is working in film right now and probably isn’t available. But there are many excellent craftsmen who are, if you ask around. Lastly, Vlad may be mortified that I have posted this, and if he is, I’ll have to delete it.
Vlad, cheers. Na Zdorovie. На здоровье.
The other craftsperson who has helped save and beautify this building is Randy Schuks, and a post on him is coming up later.