For most people, a coffee table means four legs and a flat surface. But straight lines and right angles are anathema to Larry Brown, under whose skilled hands something as prosaic as a coffee table takes shape as a thing of beauty, motion and art.
Graceful, swooping curls of wood anchor Brown's huge, glass-topped tables, as though he's captured seagrasses floating underwater and molded them into table legs. The sensual airiness of the pieces belies their solid strength; Brown hand-makes each "leg" over a period of two weeks by clamping together numerous small planks and planing them to create smooth lines. Brown prefers to dye rather than paint the wood to preserve the translucence.
"I like to see something look like it's growing in the room," Brown, a burly, soft-spoken man, says. "It's not fluffy, sweet art. It's a language in form, but it still has drama."
In addition to the tables, which start at $2,500, Brown has crafted banisters, mantelpieces and cabinets for homeowners who want furniture that makes an artistic statement. A disciple of Buckminister Fuller, the 20th-century philosopher, writer and inventor best known for the invention of the geodesic dome, Brown was drawn to the natural qualities of wood while searching for a three-dimensional art form he could pursue using renewable resources. He's careful to investigate the source of the American hardwoods he uses to make sure none come from virgin ecosystems.
The Illinois native moved to Sarasota 16 years ago after spending years wandering through the country working at Renaissance fairs. He bought property on Siesta Key and started carving furniture and showing at local galleries. Now he has a sprawling workshop in Sarasota's industrial pocket, where he carves with his grandfather's tools and the antique machinery that sits in his overgrown, shady yard through which his Lab-retriever mix, Dusty, frolics. His belt drive is 80 years old and good as new; his planer was built for the Navy during World War II and sat unused in the Philippines for decades until Brown got his hands on it.
"To me, that's the romance of it," Brown says.
You can check out Brown's work at www.larrybrownstudios.com.