Give Local, Handmade Gifts This Holiday Season

It’s hard to believe that fall is here and with it, the anticipation of the holidays. (What happened to September?) This time of year is one of the busiest and most fun times of the year for Matrix Design Group. Because this is the season of gift-giving, when customers come to us to create handmade gifts—something one of a kind, something local—for their loved ones. These types of projects are rewarding for us, both in the process of learning about our customers and finding that exact thing that is going to put a smile on the face (or sometimes a tear in the eye) of the one receiving it.

So when you are creating your Christmas list and want to show someone how much they mean to you, Matrix can help with handmade gifts that will blow doors on something you purchase from Amazon. Whether it’s as simple as a set of garden hooks or as dramatic as a custom sculpture, we got you. Get your orders in soon—handmade gifts take a bit more time to create!

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Just in time for Halloween, this cute little forged owl keychain doubles as a can opener. 

 

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These roses make great gifts. We had one customer who purchased a dozen to give out to loved ones at a family reunion. They also appeared on the Bachelor TV show.

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Pottery by Luci Prestwood of Matrix Design Group is understated and elegant. Above, add sand to a votive for a pretty incense holder, below, unfinished pottery makes sweet votives or salt pigs. 

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Can you tell we love incense? This incense holder is made out of steel and is great for sticks or the compact kind that is so popular.

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Matrix Design Group Metal Owl Sculpture. We can make custom sculpture of virtually anything. 

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Forged metal hooks require no nails (see image below) and can be hammered directly into the wall. Great for keys near the door, and strong enough to hang potted plants.

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Another custom forged hook. Perfect for holding kitchen utensils, keys, towels, plants, and more. 

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We love making knives at Matrix. Above, a forged letter opener. Below, an unfinished Damascus knife. Imagine what a great handmade gift this would make with a custom handle! 

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A Matrix Design Group original, custom tray made of metal scraps. 

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Turned vases are beautiful gifts, each one unique in its markings. This one is made from a dogwood stump. 

Think outside the box with Matrix Design Studio time, which allows your loved one to spend several hours with Kelly Prestwood in his studio in Alexander, very near Asheville. They will come away with new crafting skills (forging, welding, turning wood, you name it) and a project to take home.

 

If you want to give something unique for your loved one this holiday season let’s get started. Give us a shout below: 

Handmade Custom Dining Room Tables for Thanksgiving

The holidays seem to be a time when people start to spruce up their home to prepare for parties, house guests, and the Thanksgiving feast. We get a lot of orders this time of year for handmade custom dining room tables from people who want something bigger or something that means a little bit more than what they might purchase from Pottery Barn or the like—not to mention local, made right here in Asheville. We’ve put together some of our favorite dining room tables (and custom bar) we’ve designed to show you the possibilities. The only real limit is your imagination, and that’s where ours takes over.

We’d love to sit down with you to discuss your lifestyle, your family, and come up with designs for a custom dining room table just in time for Thanksgiving. 

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Contemporary ash tables with six rotating chairs that will raise and lower to accommodate all guests. 

 

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Above and below, kitchen island with integrated knife holder and cutting board stations. Made with reclaimed white oak and walnut top and birch veneered front.

 

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Another view of the kitchen island with integrated knife holder and cutting board stations.

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Live-edge table and bench for a cozy dining spot!

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A reclaimed white oak table with butterfly spline accents in a breakfast nook. 

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This view is of a desk, not a table, but the concept can be applied to anything. It shows the detail of a steampunk-style quarter-sawn red oak desktop in which the customer wanted gears and mechanical motifs integrated seamlessly into the wood. 

The underside of a table, while not very useful for holding up a turkey and pumpkin pie, is interesting to look at for us furniture makers, if only to see how strong it is. This picture shows the underside of a table we made for an interior designer and its connection points.

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This is actually a complete dining table. It is a piece of spalted maple that the client then covered with glass to complete the look.

See something you like? Want something completely new? Drop us a note and let’s get your project going. 

Forged in the Fire: Philosophical Musings on Forging Steel

Blacksmiths live irregular lives. When you are forging steel to make your livelihood, you find yourself keeping odd hours, for one. When it starts heating up in the summer months, I forge all night and sleep some of the day. When it’s cold outside, I come out of hibernation like a bear blinking in the sunlight and light up the days with fire and heat. We don’t keep the shop air conditioned, preferring to forge in synchronicity with the seasons and the weather.

As anyone who’s ever tossed and turned knows, you can get into a fog after a night of no sleep. Keeping normal relationships with diurnal folks means you just may not sleep at times…for longer periods than most are used to. Yesterday, after noticing in dismay as the morning sun was lighting up the sky, I began thinking about the meaning of life in a insomnia-induced waking reverie as I pounded steel. With sheer force I tried to induce the steel into the shapes that I deemed appropriate whether it’s functional, a piece of art, or a little of both.

The idea for this blog popped into my head and I started thinking about writing in general. With writing, you pluck words out of the air and arrange them neatly into sentences, limited only by your creativity and confidence. With steel, it’s like the words haven’t been invented yet, or even the letters. You are taking something that vehemently does not want to be moved and forcing it to yield with fire and a massive hammer. There is nothing neat about it as we struggle with nature ever time in a sort of primordial battle, reinventing nature’s rules with each blow.

This got in my head as I pondered in my hypnagogic state the meaning of the work that we do at Matrix. We make stuff from material that puts up a fight, daily, nightly, year after year. It’s my job and my passion. But it wears on me, that constant resistance renewed daily.

But then again, when you heat, deform, and finish a piece of steel, the metal is transformed. It can withstand extreme pressure yet still maintain structural integrity under stress. Forged metal is harder, stronger, and more durable than cast or machined metal. It’s the pressure that makes it so. Forging in fire is so transformative that it has become an idiom that means something has been made stronger by the process—figurative or literal—of applying heat and pressure. It’s easy to draw a parallel to life in general.

 

This steel is kicking my butt, but in the process, it’s fortifying both me as a person, the product that we make at Matrix every day, and our team at large. We are getting stronger, more creative, bigger, and better. We are creating art and tools and fixtures and more from the hardest thing in the world from which to create—stubborn, assoholic steel. But then again, I can’t say we would have it any other way.

So, with a renewed appreciation and optimism for all the exciting projects we have coming down the pipeline, I want to thank Matrix customers for the opportunity to create something meaningful with an obstinate medium. We look forward to a long, hot, grueling, and transformative summer.

Asheville Chocolate’s New Custom Sign Is Sweet

Creating custom signage for local businesses, like the one we recently completed for Asheville Chocolate, can be tricky, but fun. Tricky in the sense that you are dealing with someone’s brand identity, which calls for attention to detail like nobody’s business. Fun because you get to see that vision come to life in the most visible part of their business, which means seeing a smile on the client’s face if you’ve met that goal.

A month or two ago, Asheville Chocolate, located at 25 Broadway in downtown Asheville, asked us to create their sign to match their logo as part of a complete relaunch/rebrand. The sign includes the logo on a light purple background, surrounded by forged cacao pods, leaves, and flowers.

We worked with the owners to download their vision, then executed the sign, with Luci doing her magic on the welding and painting, then helping with the installation, which was tricky because the construct above the sign was made of plaster and it was hard to find an anchor point. The installation also required a little extra care on our part—the sign was heavy, the day was hot, and the leaves were sharp. (Ouch.)

The Asheville Chocolate custom sign is now visible as you walk down Broadway. Stop in and get chocolate sauced, as they say. 

 

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The beginning stages of building the Asheville Chocolate sign, including cutting and adhering the letters. 

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Woodwork complete. Time to get to forging.

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A cacao pod forged to match the drawing. 

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Luci matching the PMS colors of the logo with paint.

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Luci and I installing the Asheville Chocolate sign on Broadway.

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Tada! 

If you have a signage need, give me a call at 828-712-1996 or shoot me an email. Our signs can be seen all over Asheville, including main hanging signs and sidewalk signs downtown at Old Europe, Strada, Posada, April Cornell, Studio Chavarria, and more. 

 

When a Customer Trusts the Artist

 

Today we’d like to tell you about a recent project where the client trusted us to produce a table that ended up being one of the best things we’ve worked on. This happened for two reasons: first, the client gave us the general idea of what was needed and then let us take the reins; second, the table itself is something we worked extremely hard on and are very proud of.

The clients are a local (in downtown Asheville) interior design company. They wanted a conference table that would ultimately be used for their client meetings. We understood this to be a challenge, knowing their customers would be seeing our work, and possibly requesting similar work for their own homes. This means we really needed to produce something amazing. Not that we wouldn’t for any project that comes our way, but the added pressure of being an example of a local artist’s work was something we took seriously.

This table had certain size requirements, was understood to be a wood and metal product, and we were given the added request to bring warmth to the room it would be placed in. Beyond that, after an initial meeting to brainstorm, the clients allowed us to take liberties in the design and finish. While you may have heard the old adage that doctors make the worst patients, in this case that did not apply. These interior designers were the best clients we could ask for. Perhaps their experience working with customers allowed them to be this way, but whatever the reasoning, we were left to create something beautiful. We believe we both agree that the outcome is not only a piece of art, but also truly functional and will stand the test of time.

The table itself wound up being created from a sustainably harvested dark South American hardwood with an architectural metal base. Once the rectangular top was created we sanded it to a smooth finish. This was the most difficult – and time consuming – part of the project. A more common wood would’ve been easier to put through this process. But because of its splintering nature, extra care had to be taken to create the shape and feel that we desired. After the hours of the handwork of grinding, sanding, and shaping, we finally had the top of the table in the condition we wanted.

The shape was inspired by Wharton Esherick’s desk (Esherick is a wood-worker we mentioned in our previous blog post.) The smoothness and rounded edges of the table top are a direct reference to the type of work he created. Before adding any finishing oils or waxes the wood was remarkably touchable and the edges were evenly rounded off to add to the warmth the clients requested. Once we added layers of our own mixture of finishes, the beauty of the wood was truly stunning. The combination of the soft edges and smooth yet durable finish created something that would be warm, inviting to the touch, and last for lifetimes.

We knew that the base of the table would have to be pretty amazing to match the quality and look of the wood top that was finished. When we first discussed the base with the clients, we agreed on a flat metal that would be bent to a rectangular shape on either end. Now we didn’t feel that look really fit the top. So we designed and suggested a more sturdy-looking squared metal base that would be doubled on each end. (This is rather difficult to describe so we hope the photos included help with the imagery.) This created a more architectural look and a balanced feeling. The table appears to have more weight, but it’s a sense of weight than actual pounds being added. Here is a good example of where the clients allowed us to change the plan slightly, but this slight change increased the quality of design of the entire piece.

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Once the two main parts were ready, we delivered the table, put it together in their office, and left them with instructions and a small amount of our wax to keep the top looking and performing its best. We consider ourselves a full service design group and this is evidence of our dedication to this idea. We want the table to last as long as possible – and be beautiful the whole time. We would be happy to return to their office and help them keep this piece looking and feeling the way it should. But we also hope that our instructions and our wax product will substitute for our presence over the next six weeks, six months, and in the years to come.

Again, we ultimately walked away from this experience with the utmost gratitude for our clients’ flexibility. We also feel we created something that represents us and other local artists’ capabilities. We, along with our (interior designer) clients, both hope that this will lead to their customers choosing more local work whenever possible. As they hold meetings on this beautiful table, maybe the next home owners will be inspired to choose us, or other Asheville-based artists, for objects to fill their houses.

Thank you for taking your time to read about this project and see the kinds of things that we’re passionate about. We hope to update this blog at least once a month with similar posts, both including the clients, the work, and the people who make up Matrix Design Group. We are so grateful to be designing and creating work in Asheville and hope that you enjoy our stories related to these processes.

In addition to this blog and our website (www.matrixdesign-group.com), we are also on Instagram (@matrixDesignGroup) and Facebook (matrix design) — please follow us there if you are so inclined.

Finally, if there is anything you’d like to know more about, don’t hesitate to comment, contact us via social media, or through our website.

What We Do and Why We Do It

Welcome to the Matrix Design Group blog! This is the first entry into what we hope will become a regular addition to our website. Our main goal is to provide some insight into our processes and the people who make up our team. Most customers only see the initial sketches and then the final results, which is interesting in and of itself, of course. Here we would like to expose more about what goes on in between, our general ideology, and, on occasion, stories about specific projects.

What Kelly Does and Why He Does It

Kelly is the lead artist, designer, and fabricator behind Matrix Design Group. Traditionally he would be considered a metal worker, however his skills – and interests – far exceed this title. While he began in welding, he enjoys carving and other wood working, creating tools and sculpture, and tackling the unique issues that often arise when commissioned for custom projects.

A perfect example of what I describe above is a recent chandelier that, in addition to the expected precision metal craftsmanship, required the use of raw silk and the addition of the necessary electrical components. Each of these things require a different set of skills – and Kelly created the entire piece within his own studio.

Although all these talents and skills are pretty impressive, he would ultimately prefer to call himself a folk artist. This term embodies the wide range of skills he has while calling attention to the specific design ideals he strives to achieve.

Kelly’s interest in these arts came at an early age. He credits his grandfather, a college educated butcher, farmer, and craftsman who forged his own tools. Kelly still has some of the tools that his grandfather gave him and cherishes those items dearly. So after high school, he attended AB Tech for welding and has now been a working artist for over 18 years.

Many would say that any decent artist evolves over time. Kelly has been able to do so, though a recent trip to Philadelphia served as a catalyst to bring his work to another level. During his visit, he toured sculptor Wharton Esherick’s home. The type and quality of wood-working Esherick created helped Kelly see what was possible in his own pieces. This experience proved both inspirational, and, when discussing new work with new clients, as a story that anyone can appreciate and build on.

While there are several people, experiences, and events that have inspired Kelly’s artistic journey they are ultimately bound by a similar theme: any piece that Matrix Design Group produces is hand-made with heart and soul. This further supports Kelly’s own favored title of folk artist, and his desire to create pieces of the utmost integrity and quality. Luckily, he has put together a team that not only agrees with this vision, but also is able to make products that adhere to these standards.

We’ll further introduce team members Tony Mazza and Cameron Wethern (pictured, with Kelly, in our header photo) over our next few posts. Together with Kelly and myself, Hillary Kruger, we are Matrix Design Group. We hope you will enjoy the blog and follow along with us as we embark on new projects and explore the personal side of what we do.