Made In Sarasota

By staff February 1, 2006

One of Erik Wiklund's most prized possessions is a woodworking tool called a plane, which was made by an 80-year-old Japanese master blacksmith from iron that was fired in the 1700s. Framed photographs of other tools by the same blacksmith hang on Wiklund's bedroom wall. When he touches the worn metal grooves of one of the pieces, or lightly traces the outline of a perfect joint, or speaks of a tool's arcane origins, it's with the same passion that collectors talk about their orchids, or a mother caresses her beloved child.

Wiklund, a furniture designer and maker, is a devotee of a craft practiced with such dedication, expertise and years of practice that the result seems effortlessly flawless. And perfectionism is something he takes seriously; it took him 13 years of practicing woodworking and five years since he created a prototype before he was ready to launch his line of Kiruna coffee tables.

Made of woods such as snakewood, bubinga, quilted maple, ebony, mahogany and zebrawood, Wiklund's tables are stunning, with a simplicity and smoothness that belie the almost eight weeks of toil that go into handcrafting each one. The tops are long and rectangular, featuring contrasting borders and inlays, and the legs are slightly angled. The spare Scandinavian design is offset by the brilliancy of the woods Wiklund searches out from dealers around the country.

One table features a spread of Oregon bigleaf quilted maple bordered by western claro walnut with ebony inlays. The quilted maple is butterflied open (like all Wiklund's tabletops) to show the continuity of the grain, and the finish is so exquisite that the result resembles lustrous butter-colored silk viewed through ripples of crystal clear water.

"Mother Nature does 90 percent of the work, because most of it's finding the woods and figuring out nice ways to put them together," says Wiklund.

The way the whorls of the wood grain and pattern of a leg allude to the twisting torque of a forked tree trunk or the spread of a branch feels organic. But each one is the result of serious and solid construction. Wiklund never uses veneers, and even the legs and borders are made of solid wood, with ironwood soles on the legs, which are fitted to the tops with mortise and tenon joinery. Steel splines connect the apron to the center.

The handmade inlays are one continuous piece from end to end, and Wiklund says his specialized epoxy adhesives combine with multicoat satin-lacquer finishes or polymerized tung-oil finishes that will remain scratch- and stain-resistant for decades. The underside of the tabletops are also finished, so the view is just as good from the floor underneath.

Wiklund has always enjoyed working with his hands, and frequently helped his father work on projects around the house as a child growing up in Georgia and in Maryland.

After getting an M.F.A. in filmmaking from Northwestern University, Wiklund pursued a varied career that took him from directing avant-garde films to teaching advertising in Chicago, writing scripts for soap operas in New York and questions for game shows in Los Angeles, and making films for oil companies in New Orleans.

He moved to Sarasota when he was offered a job teaching at Florida State University's film program, which at the time was housed at the Asolo. It was in Sarasota that he met his wife, Patty Kingsley, who owned the Kingsley Book Emporium on St. Armands Circle. Wiklund helped her run the shop before they sold it, and even spent four years as a stockbroker until he turned to woodworking full-time two years ago.

Through all his different career moves, however, Wiklund strove to find work for his hands to touch and create. In his early film days, he enjoyed handling film and making splices, and when he worked as a writer in New York he would come home and immediately start cooking. "Chopping things up, using different colors, different textures-those creative feelings start coming back to me when I do my woodworking," he says.

Before he created the prototype for Kiruna (named for a city in Sweden and a nod to his paternal grandfather, who is Swedish), he built several things in his house, including a lacewood kitchen table, a Mission-style entertainment center, beautiful fishing rods that took him 30 hours each to make, and, also for fishermen, a mahogany and maple fly stretcher with hand-notched pegs. He built his own worktable, toolbox, marking knives and even the fan that sits in his office-all of which display the same perfectionism, attention to detail and clean design that mark his tables.

"I don't like to make showy pieces," says the amiable but intense Wiklund. "I like pure and clean designs, and I make them so they'll last forever. These tables are made to last a few hundred years; they're built like tanks."

Kiruna tables start at $3,000. For more information, contact Erik Wiklund Designs at (941) 374-0221 or [email protected]

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