From Carpentry to Custom Furniture

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PHOTO by Brian Tietz

PHOTO by Brian Tietz

When Tommie Mullaney was 19, he built his first piece of furniture: a mid-century modern, three-legged side table carved out of black walnut. “I was so scared I was going to mess up,” he says. “But then I stood back, looked at it, and thought, ‘Wow, I actually made that.’” After a few more years of DIY learning, pouring over YouTube tutorials and how-to articles from icons like California-based Jory Brigham, Mullaney was ready to turn this pastime into a more serious profession. Last year, he finally made the leap and launched his Naples-based custom furniture line, Mullaney Woodworks.

The 24-year-old was born in southeast England in the county of Essex, but the only remnants of his home country are his faint British accent and the way he drinks his tea: black, with milk. Mullaney moved to Naples with his parents 17 years ago. As a child, his summers were spent toying with tools in his father’s warehouse, an electrical and air-conditioning business on Marco Island. Toolboxes inspired the items comprising his Christmas lists: nail guns, hammers, chisels. “Little did I know at the time that I was destined to be a woodworker,” he says. “I didn’t see it until I was 18 years old and someone put me on a jobsite.”

Instead of college, he started working with a general contractor, tackling everything from electrical work to demolition. One year later, his mother, a banker, introduced him to a client of hers, a woodworker looking for an apprentice. “Six months in, I realized this is what I’m made to do,” he says. Five years later, he’s still perfecting his skills under the same woodworker and finish carpenter, adding the last decorative touches to homes in Port Royal and Gulf Shore Boulevard. In May 2018, however, he started branching out on his own by creating his furniture line, sourcing slabs of maple, cherry and rosewood from a Sarasota lumber mill.

Plywood is piled up in his one-car garage, which doubles as a makeshift workshop where he saws and sands his pieces, which range from kitchen items like curly maple inlay cutting boards (available on Etsy for $150) to $4,000 cherry wood dining chairs. His first piece took him nearly 50 hours to finish over the course of a week, but now he’s perfected his methods and can craft the same side table in half the time. When he returns home in the evenings after working as a finish carpenter, he spends hours toiling away on his latest project, producing two to four larger pieces per month. A few of his favorites make it on his Instagram (@mullaneywoodworks), while others are promoted in person, showcased in the same homes he’s working on. “I’ve had such good response from word of mouth, so I haven’t invested a ton of money into the website and social media platforms,” he explains, adding that he’s slowly working on boosting his Internet presence. 

He pours savings from his day job into material for his furniture line, slowly upgrading tools as the work gets finer and wood gets harder. “The machinery has to be more precise, more efficient,” Mullaney says. If he were to start today and buy everything all at once, the machinery alone would be $40,000 to $50,000. Since crafting furniture requires the same tool set as carpentry, he’s been able to slowly build up his toolbox over the past five years. His next plan is to upgrade his work space, moving somewhere larger that can act as both a dedicated shop and showroom.

Mullaney is hoping to reach the point where he can transition into full-time furniture design and transfer his self-filmed YouTube videos into a classroom-like concept, inspiring a new generation of woodworkers in Naples. “Woodworking is kind of a dying trade, which is a shame,” he says. “I want to one day have a shop or school and do something that shows people—especially my age—that any kind of skilled trade is valuable.”

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