Old Friends Build Beautiful Custom Mixed Media in Chapel Hill

Old Friends Build Beautiful Custom Mixed Media in Chapel Hill

Michael Everhart and Will Stanley of Five Fork Studio combine their woodworking skills and metal work, respectively, to create custom pieces for the home.

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Photo by Heba Salama

Michael Everhart grew up in Durham, while Will Stanley was raised in Orange County, on the eponymous Five Forks Road. They met at Durham School of the Arts and Michael, a UNC grad, and Will, who completed graduate school at UNC, have been good friends since. “We played some music back in the day and have always enjoyed working on projects together,” Michael says. “There was a period of heavy car work. A history of projects is a good way to put it.” Their latest, Five Fork Studio, was formed in 2012 and combines Michael’s woodworking skills with Will’s metal work to create one-of-a-kind pieces from cutting boards and speakers to kitchen cabinets and tables.

Growing up, were you particularly artistic? Were there any indications that you’d end up pursing an artistic field?

MICHAEL I certainly would think so. Even playing with Legos is a good first step toward that. I think also it goes to the project side of that. I’ve always been someone who likes to do things with my hands.

WILL We sort of straddle a line there. We’re in the [Orange County Artists Guild], but I don’t think either of us totally look at it as art. Furniture is nice in that you can design stuff – you can be creative with it – but it’s still pretty practical. It’s maybe more grounded than if we just made stuff you looked at.

MICHAEL The things we make are functional, too, but we want them to be beautiful. But it’s not that every piece we set out to make is fine art or something.

How did you start Five Fork Studio?

MICHAEL The evolution of the business was a pretty organic one. Will had been in Haiti for a year doing some other work. During that time, I had purchased this house [near Southern Community Park]. There was this awesome woodshop, so I was out there all the time building things like speakers and developing an excitement about that. Will gets back into the country and, for some reason, buys a welder for some project that was happening [at Will’s studio on Five Forks Road]. We were basically like, “We should build some stuff together.” It was really two independently found hobbies [that] started to bubble up.

How did each of you pick up your trade?

WILL We had some small projects, and it was an excuse to figure that out. [Our trades] were both just self-taught. It turns out you can teach yourself to do these things, especially MIG [metal inert gas] welding. You can pretty much start producing functional welds on day one.

MICHAEL We watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of forums … just a lot of research. I worked for a construction contractor for nine months and picked up a lot of experience from some talented guys.

Where do you source your materials?

WILL That’s more interesting on the wood side because pretty much I just order more steel. A lot of square tubing, simple stuff. As far as finishing, I use a lot of sculptor’s patinas. You can do all sorts of different controlled rusting processes to get different colors.

MICHAEL On the wood side, there are two broad categories that we would use: reclaimed wood or some sort of local hardwood. We make a strong effort not to use any exotic woods. A lot of our reclaimed wood has come from old tobacco barns and farmhouses that have been torn down in the surrounding counties. The nicer stuff is culled out and denailed. As far as the fresh hardwoods, most people are fond of walnut, maple, cherry, oak and sometimes hickory and ash. We’ve recently been using these large slabs of extremely expensive big old pieces of wood. [These come from] trees that may be a couple hundred years old that have fallen and have been carefully aged and kiln dried. Those are a lot of fun to work with.

What’s the design process like?

MICHAEL The most common [situation] is that someone has
seen our work and has an idea that is similar. They can picture our materials and style with their pieces. If they’re a local person, we like to meet them and draw up designs together. But usually it sort of begins as a brainstorming process. We go back and forth and narrow in on something. Sometimes people will send us a photo and say,
“I want this. Can you make it? How much does it cost?” Sometimes they have very specific ideas on what they want. It’s nice to work with both types of customers for different reasons. Sometimes we’ll have
a decision made immediately and just roll with it. Sometimes the customer just wants to see the process through. We often will take pictures of our work as we go and send people updates. That’s a good chance to keep the design process open as we build the piece.

How much time do you spend together versus apart?

MICHAEL Over the past year, we probably only spent about a third of our time in the same space – be that us doing office hours or meetings or packing and shipping.

WILL We design together and build separately and assemble together.

MICHAEL Ideally, we’ll have a space that can house both a metal shop and a woodshop. That will allow us to not have to drive across the county to assemble something. For a common table, we’ll get the job, and Will will assemble the base and then bring it over to me. I’ll build the top, and we’ll put it together.

What have you learned as faras communication?

MICHAEL [Laughs] You nailed it. The
big thing is that you learn to communicate about [everything] with each other and with the client. You measure twice and you cut once … ideally. We certainly make our share of mistakes.

It must be nice to have another person to lean on when you fall into a creative rut.

MICHAEL I think that’s one of the things we’re best at. That would be a large part of the time we do spend together, knocking ideas back and forth or talking about what’s going to work. We analyze our own work a lot. It’s nice that it is the two of us. It’s easy for us to meet on an idea versus having too many cooks in the kitchen.

What do you admire about your creative partner?

MICHAEL Will is unrelentingly ambitious all the time – and optimistic. Also, the fact that this is built on a longtime friendship – we can just trust each other. If I say something and Will doesn’t exactly see me, he probably has the inclination to assume that I’m saying it for the best intentions.

WILL We check and balance each
other, especially with business decisions and figuring out a way forward. Mike is definitely better at being practical and realistic about whether we’re going to make a living with what we’re charging.

What’s next for Five Fork Studio?

MICHAEL Definitely [getting more] space and adding things to our repertoire of tools and production capabilities.

WILL It seems like manufacturing in America is coming back in a way. Not just for trendy stuff but also for short run and prototyping. There are a lot of things that [shouldn’t] be done in China. It’s exciting to get into that and teach ourselves.