On a sunny Monday afternoon early this month, Joel Liebman of Hadley resembles an Old World furniture maker in
his window lit studio at One Cottage Street, a former mill building in Easthampton. He sands an Art Deco style chair, his ever present dogs Ginger and Avery lingering about, as sawdust and the music
of Johnny Cash fill the air.
Liebman, a Long Island native, has been making custom furniture since 1989, when he enrolled in the Genoa School of Furniture
Design in Genoa, N.Y. It was a turning point in his life.
Disinterested in formal education, Liebman says, he had dropped out of the State University of New York at New
Paltz. With no career in mind, he took jobs in a print shop and a vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y. "In my late 20s desperation sank in," he recalls. "What am I going to
He decided to attend a public lecture at Genoa.
"The bug really hit me," says Liebman. "The smell and the atmosphere.
The wood in the hallways. Here was a community I could
be a part of."
After graduating from Genoa, he moved to Western Massachusetts in 1993. He worked for furniture maker Alan Lorn
for a couple of weeks in the same studio Liebman now occupies at One Cottage Street, but Lorn decided he didn't have enough work and moved to Philadelphia, Liebman rented the studio and started
his own business. He later bought Lorn's equipment.
Five years ago, Chris Schneider of Hudson saw Liebman's work at the Paradise City Arts Festival in
Marlborough and commissioned several pieces in the Art Deco style. "Antique Art Deco pieces are too large for our home," says Schneider.
Liebman had never worked in the Art Deco style, but together, he and Schneider tailored pieces the furniture maker would
craft. "We faxed designs back and forth. He gave me a chance to explore my own personal sense of creativity," says Schneider.
In addition to posting photos of the results on his Web site, Liebman made some sample pieces for shows and he
began receiving more requests for Art Deco furniture. Now, about 60 percent of his work is done in the Art Deco style. He wishes it were 90 percent.
"It invokes thoughts or memories of things," says Liebman, describing the style from 1930s Hollywood
movies, "things people think of as classy. We live in an era where we have none of that. It has to come from artists."
Liebman conceives his designs by studying the style, then adapting and introducing Art Deco motifs in the piece,
often by using inlays and contrasting veneers.
The final result is high-end furniture that starts at about $1,200 for a simple coffee or end table. A recently completed
drop-front desk is priced at $4,800.
"The kind of work I do is for upper middle-class and wealthy people," says Liebman.
"I often wish that wasn't true. If people only knew the amount of work and attention to detail. I've got to the point where I'm very good at it."