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Western furniture maker Mike Elliott's style is all natural.
Photo: Jeff Hinds
When he was riding a fence line in Wyoming more than a decade ago, little did Mike Elliott know that one day he would be making fine Western furniture for clients around the country.
“I was working on the Rockefeller Ranch in Cody,” Elliott says. “They had a full-blown woodshop. I started collecting odd pieces of wood when I was out fixing fences, and I’d bring them back and make something.” His Western accessories and furniture sold readily at a local store.
It’s been a dozen years since Elliott moved his fledgling Western Designs business to Minden, where he refined his style. He mixes found pieces—planks from tumbled-down sheds, fallen trees from canyons in the Eastern Sierra—with intricate inlays of exotic woods from Mexico, Africa, and the South Pacific and creates tables, dressers, frames, built-in bars, trunks, armoires, and cupboards.
The top of one of Elliott’s console tables is a 120-year-old slab of Douglas fir from an old barn. Antique cattle brands and shoes from Elliott’s horses decorate the surface, and the drawer is detailed with diagonal inlays. The hand-rubbed beeswax finish feels silky to the touch. The table’s top virtually dropped in his lap. “A guy with a pickup truck load of old wood pulled up to my house and said, ‘You the guy who likes barnwood?’ And I said, ‘Yeah!’”
Elliott doesn’t draw his pieces ahead of time, preferring to let the designs come to him. “They’re somewhere in my head,” he explains. Running his hand along the shelf underneath a coffee table, he says, “I usually play around with the bottom first and figure out the top I want to put on it. Then I start playing around with design details. Whatever I do on the bottom, I try to imitate on top—so it kind of plays off itself.”
A trunk made of Nevada barnwood features angular inlays of birch twigs and exotic hardwoods. Five- and 10-drawer dressers have thick log legs with the knots still protruding and drawer pulls fashioned from Western juniper or piñon pine. “I love to show the natural colors of various woods, and I admire the delicate variations of texture as I work with each material,” he says.
Before building a custom piece, Elliott visits his clients’ homes to see, as he puts it, “where it’s going to live.” And usually people who buy one piece will buy several. Elliott says, “People will call me and say, ‘You know what we like, and you know what the house looks like. Just do something for us. We trust you.’”
Elliott, a certified gemologist, now lives in Coleville, California, eight miles from Topaz Lake on the Nevada border. He has been invited to exhibit his furniture four times at the annual Western Design Conference in Cody, at a special show in September at the Buffalo Bill Historical Museum, also in Cody, and at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona.
Furniture making is more than just a business for Elliott—it’s a passion. His pieces are comparably priced to that of any fine furniture, but he doesn’t add up the hours he spends on a piece. “I don’t want to know how little I make,” he says, “so I don’t do it.”