Woodworking and water are the themes of Tripp Carpenter’s life. Sleek wooden furniture inspired by waves and other natural forms crowd the small showroom in Bolinas, California, which he inherited from his father, the world-renowned furniture maker Arthur Espenet Carpenter.
“Like dad said, what we’re doing here is the jazz of woodwork: everything is untraditional and innovative,” said Tripp, a lanky 52-year-old whose broad hands reveal a lifetime of surfing and working with wood.
He runs the shop as a working museum and a tribute to his father, who went by the professional name of Espenet–in part to avoid the nickname “Arty Carpenter.”
In the 1950s, Espenet was one of the pioneers of California Design furniture, which is characterized by organic forms and a cavalier flouting of convention. He helped shape the field with his sensuous, simple designs and unconventional construction techniques. His work is now displayed in the Smithsonian and other collections worldwide.
Today, Tripp is carrying on his father’s legacy in the long, narrow building full of wood shavings and windows. He fills orders for his father’s designs, creates his own pieces, and also does refinishing and repair work.
“I don’t really think of myself as an artist or a craftsman,” Tripp said. “I’m just trying to make a living. But it helps that I have an aesthetic; I know what good form looks like, and it’s fun to make beautiful things that are going to outlast me.” He added that exposing the beauty of wood is one of his inspirations, as are the sensuous forms waves–which is fitting for a man who describes himself as a surfer above all else.
He added that the legacy of his father’s shop is a sanctuary and an inspiration for artists: a supportive place where people can live cheaply and have the freedom to experiment with form and style. “Bolinas is a great community to be an artist in, and the shop is a part of that.”
Espenet trained more than 130 apprentices, many of whom are still nearby. People come in and use the equipment to make things and fix things, or just to say hello, Tripp said.