The Handmades’ Tale

Wednesday, July 1, 1998 | Posted by Michael Colca

Texas Montly / Suzy Banks

Fed up with the mediocre quality that was the standard at the cabinet shop where he worked, Michael Colca quit his job in the late seventies and decided to strike out on his own. "I figured in five years I'd be so good, an expert..." Now, 23 years later, the idea of mastering his craft so rapidly seems so ludicrous that the 45-year-old Colca can't finish the sentence without laughing. One problem back then was the lack of instructors or mentors. "Of course, I really admired the work of Sam Maloof," he says of the California woodworker and designer who was in the vanguard of the crafts revival in the fifties. "I could read about him, but I wasn't able to work with him."

Colca soon discovered the Arts and Crafts style and fell in love. "Everything you do, you do for a reason," he tells me as we crawl around under one of his dining tables at his workshop in Driftwood. He points out a mortise-and-tenon joint on the side of one leg whose securing wedge has been overdriven to create an attractive bulge. "When you do something like this, you're not doing it just because it's pretty," he says,"You're doing it because it's strong and provides a visual focus for the strength of the piece."

In an attempt to find some balance between perfection and affordability without compromising his standards, Colca has designed a furniture series that he calls Medina. The dining-room and bedroom suites, highboys, and hutches made of cherry, pecan, and maple--with unobtrusive hinges and book-matched grain--give a reverential nod to Arts and Crafts by transcend pure imitation. "I'm a fanatic for book-matching," says Colca of the process of splitting open a piece of wood to reveal mirror-image grain patterns. And if there's one thing he learned from Maloof, it's that there are no rules. "Maloof doesn't get stuck in tradition," he says. "He knows you're going to come up with better stuff if you don't get locked into the way things should be done." Although he's basically happy with his Medina designs, perfectionist Colca says he can't stop "fiddling with proportions, playing with it, deciding how big to make the feet, driving myself absolutely crazy."