Lying on her back on a cushioned dolly, Cori Craciun carefully sands a 170-pound Indonesian raintree slab, smoothing areas where she’ll attach a curved, black metal pedestal.
The 6-by-3-foot live-edge table was commissioned by a customer who fell in love with the two pieces—the stark contrast of the contemporary pedestal against the raw wood’s rustic beauty.
Craciun creates her distinctive live-edge and petrified wood furniture inside a 1,700-square-foot studio behind her shop, Sticks & Stones Collection, in the Naples Art District, where she combines her love of natural wood and large gemstones. The shop features everything from tables, consoles and gemstones to sculptures, paintings and accent pieces, such as mirrors, vases and bowls.
“It’s bringing nature into your home,” Craciun says. “It’s like a focus for your house. You need a natural element. Nowadays, people run, run, run. They never stop. Nature grounds you.
“The stones, too. They have all these benefits,” she adds.
She carefully chisels, cuts and sands the slabs to retain the tree’s natural edge. Knots and cracks are filled with brown epoxy, so they remain visible while creating a smooth surface. “You can stain it a different color, but they’re beautiful the way they are,” she says. “I do whatever the wood tells me.”
Looking at her artistry, you’d think she’d been handcrafting wood for decades, but she opened her shop in 2018 after teaching herself the craft.
Ever since she was a child playing in the woods, mountains and rivers of Transylvania, nature inspired her. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1999 after seeking political asylum in Hungary. Romanians here were tile installers, so she learned the trade. “I was always handy with tools,” she says. When her sister, Daniela, asked her to be a partner in Daniela’s restaurant in North Naples in 2009, she renovated the space and did everything but cook.
But her passion kept calling. “I was looking for a piece of wood to put one of my rocks on. I saw a picture of a teakwood table and loved it. I said, ‘Oh my God. It just goes together. Mother Nature created it,’” she says. “Then a lightbulb went off.”
She researched live-edge and petrified wood furniture and learned from epoxy and paint suppliers and manufacturers. When the sisters closed their restaurant after eight years, she opened her shop the following year.
Craciun, who is president of Naples Pride, sources gems from suppliers and shows, and also creates pieces from tamarind, lychee and liana, a vine. Petrified wood is created when a volcano erupts, covering everything with ash. Water seeps into the wood, decaying it and transforming it to stone. “This piece is 25 million years old,” she says of a colorful, undulating stump table.
Before the pandemic, she used to fly to Indonesia for slabs, and planned to visit Thailand. Now she selects slabs through What’sApp, using videos and photos.
What’s next? She plans to incorporate stones into wood pieces with clear epoxy.
Artist Chrissy Noonan, who taught Craciun abstract painting years ago, saw her gift and urged her to follow her passion.
“When she invited me to the gallery to see what she’d done with rocks and wood, I was just astounded,” Noonan says. “She crafts these raw materials into beautiful tables. The first time I saw the petrified wood, I knew I absolutely had to have a console table.”
She bought two petrified wood pieces for her living room and a large blue onyx that reminds her of the Gulf. Noonan, who now displays Craciun’s art at the shop, explains: “The amount of love and attention, craftsmanship and detail she puts into it and the stones she purchases is just perfection.”