by Penny Levers
Award-winning furniture designer Robert Galusha has relocated to Austin from California by way of Kingman, Arizona and he is opening up his workshop to share his 35 years of knowledge and experience with woodworking hobbyists and artisans alike.
When Galusha moved to Oak Hill a few short months ago, he was just in time to get a late entry into the prestigious Texas Furniture Makers show in Kerrville and walked away with second place honors for his ‘Mobius Rocker in Walnut‘. He has just set up his workshop in Cedar Valley and is offering workshops.
Galusha was working as a gofer on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s set ‘Apocalypse Now‘ back in 1974 when his father died and left him his table saw. What started as a hobby making furniture for friends turned into a career as he got better at the craft and began getting regular clients.
“Back in 1981 I was living in San Francisco when Michael Taylor, the designer who created the ‘California Look‘ kept sending over furniture designs to bid on. I would give him a bid and then not hear back. I thought I must have bid too high, so I kept coming down on price. When I finally hear back, he ordered all 40 pieces at once and needed them right away. I ended up calling every furniture maker in the San Francisco area and we managed to get the job done. I didn’t make any money from it, but that was really the founding of the Bay Area Woodworkers Association,” says Galusha.
In 1986, Galusha had moved operations into a former slaughterhouse near Candlestick Park and was working on a large job for 61 rooms of hotel furniture. He was nearing completion on the order when a nearby clandestine fireworks factory blew up and destroyed two blocks of businesses, his included. “Everything was gone, including a lot of personal stuff and artwork that I was storing there,” he recalls. He managed to find a new workspace, expand from 8 to 50 employees and from 1 to 3 shifts to deliver the job on time and on budget, but delays in insurance compensation for the fire and SBA red tape made it difficult to maintain the business.
“I ended up moving to Napa Valley and had a workshop at my house so I could stay home and raise my daughter,” he explains. During those years he would build furniture to order and do restoration work. When the housing bubble hit he sold his house and moved to Kingman, Arizona using the profits from the sale to build his dream workshop with a low overhead. The local community college also came calling and he began teaching woodworking to others.
“It really pleases me to be able to pass on information and skills, ” he says. “I am more than happy to share what I know. I had always trained all of my own employees and many of them ended up with their own businesses.”
It was the internet that helped bring Galusha back to Texas, where he had served at Fort Hood during the Vietnam era. “My girlfriend from back then googled me and sent me an email. We hadn’t had any contact in 40 years, and now here I am,” he explains.
Galusha has opened up a workshop in Cedar Valley, where he has plenty of space and equipment to share his craft with up to 6 students at a time. The workshop motto is ‘Skills for a Lifetime, Heirlooms for Generations.’ “I will work with students on specific projects or help them develop projects that use skills they want to learn,” he explains. “You’ll end up creating something that the kids will fight over when you die.”
The bread and butter for Galusha is not so much the workshops or his award-winning designs, but in building furniture to order, often turning someone’s vague idea into a reality.
It was a contest sponsored by Fine Woodworking magazine in 2008 that brought out the artist in Galusha. The contest was centered around building a piece of furniture out of a single plank of maple and Galusha got the red ribbon in this competition too. The strikingly elegant chair that Galusha entered managed to confound the magazine’s editor. “He couldn’t figure out how it was made. I had actually developed a groundbreaking technology for manufacturing furniture,” he says. He continues to refine the process and come up with new designs. Each chair involves two weeks to a full month of labor, but Galusha thinks he can cut that time in half as he refines the process.
You can find pictures of Galusha’s chairs and other information about his business at his website, RobertGalushaDesign.com