Photo by Katherine Polcari.
Laurens Cotten crafts furniture in his workshop, lovingly known as the Doghouse.
The home of Hoover resident Laurens Cotten is filled with handcrafted pieces of furniture, each piece made by Cotten himself, and each made from a unique piece of wood.
There is a story behind each of the tables sitting in Cotten’s living room. He often saves pieces of wood from being thrown away at a landfill, and he is able to salvage this discarded wood and turn it into tables, benches, boxes and more.
“Unlike most people that do furniture, each piece of wood that I have tells a story,” Cotten said.
Although it has become his passion, woodworking was not what Cotten expected to do with his life. It was not until Cotton realized that there were not enough job opportunities for a social studies teacher that he was able to find his skill in woodworking. He came to this realization after he decided to take a class in furniture making at University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“They recruited me into the industrial arts, which is shop,” Cotten said. “At the time, there was a high demand for people in that field, so this [was] my ticket into teaching.”
Cotten taught shop for 30 years during his time at Riverchase Middle School and Oak Mountain Middle School. However, it wasn’t until his retirement that he found the time to craft and sell the furniture that he does today.
“When I build a table or a major piece of furniture, it’s so involved and all encompassing,” Cotten said. “Generally speaking, there are weeks, if not months, involved in building a table.”
During his years of teaching, Cotten said that he did not have enough time to dedicate to his own woodworking to bring the pieces to his level of perfection he holds himself accountable to.
“People have said that my work is rustic, but it’s not,” Cotten said. “The work is very refined. I would say it’s architectural, and it’s organic.”
Cotten said his work is not rustic because it is far from plain. The amount of thought put into his work he said makes it more special than the term “rustic” implies.
“There are a lot of people out there making what they call rustic furniture, [and] a lot of it is made out of construction lumber,” Cotten said. “The pieces that I build with, each piece of wood is unique. Every piece has its own character.”
Both his care for the wood and the amount of time that he puts into crafting each piece is what Cotton said makes his work so unique. While the recognition his work has received by customers and fellow craftsmen has been rewarding, Cotton said he does not work for the praise or even for the sales.
“This is something that in the back of my mind that I have always wanted to do,” Cotten said. “It allows me a form of self-expression.”
To see Cotten’s work on display alongside many other local talented artists, visit the Alabama Designer Craftsmen’s Annual Fall Show, which will be held at the Birmingham Botanical Garden in November. Visit alabamadesignercraftsmen.com for more information. Cotten’s work can also be found at Wild at Heart Wood on Etsy.