Ryan Ratzlaff, Founder of Appendage & Bough in Woodlake
The Wood WorkerJanuary 2015
By Fache Desrochers
Photos: Jacki Potorke
Woodworking is a fundamentally natural art. More than painting or sculpture or music, there is something especially elemental and deeply reflective about the hewing of lumber, the flow of its grain and the truly tangible progression that is the process of coaxing wood from one form to another. As Henry Ford advised, “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” But for woodworking, this adage goes even deeper, because what warms the woodworking artisan is not necessarily the flickering of a fire, but the glow of pride at a piece well crafted.
For Ryan Ratzlaff, founder of the handmade furniture company Appendage & Bough, woodworking is a natural pursuit in every sense of the word. “This all started because I just wanted to make something,” says Ratzlaff. He speaks with a kind of quiet deliberation that is only a little at odds with the slightly faraway look in his eyes. With his full beard, tall stature and thoughtful aura, Ratzlaff strikes a faintly imposing figure: remote, in a sense, as though he is preoccupied with visions and ideas for pieces not yet realized. He’s a quiet redwood of a man, and as such, one can’t help but trust his ideas for wooden tables, chairs, armoires, benches or any number of the other pieces offered up by his shop.
Operating out of a sprawling, open
barn near Woodlake, Appendage & Bough’s headquarters delivers a sense of
ambience and mindfulness, even above the screech of the saws and sanders.
Working alongside his expert colleague Julian and a gentle pack of smiling
canines and observant felines, Ratzlaff benefits from both the physical space
necessary for his vocation and the mental expansion that allows him to be philosophical about it. “There’s a certain resurgence these days of people wanting to know who made their furniture, who makes the art they have in their home,” Ratzlaff says. “I think people want to feel connected to it.” He pauses and casts a glance towards the mountains, just visible under a sunset-colored break in the early winter clouds. “I try to tie in other aspects of what we like about life in our online presence and in our design outlook. Music, travel, Julian’s home-brewed beer… that sort of stuff,” Ratzlaff smiles slightly.
“I suppose I want people to buy our work because they feel connected to us on some level.”
Although Appendage & Bough will often mill its own lumber, Ratzlaff finds himself using quite a bit of reclaimed wood, which he sources from all over the Valley. There’s a story behind it, he says. And wood as a material is quite unique: as with the right skill and care, it can be transformed and reused any number of times. “I do like working with wood because you can bring a finished product out of it that others might not be able to see,” says Ratzlaff. “You start with nothing, essentially, and then at the end you have this complete piece for someone to enjoy. Someone that you might not even know. And that’s pretty cool…to have someone that you’ve never met trust you to make something for their home.”
About half the pieces that Ratzlaff and Julian create in their workshop are their own ideas, and the other half are custom orders. Their style is an aesthetically sound blend of natural, industrial and minimalist: just the beauty of the wood, perhaps highlighted with an element of metal. For Ratzlaff, the styles he chooses to execute are entirely driven by what he finds beautiful. But he’s always been a good and unwavering judge of beauty; Ratzlaff is an artist and a maverick at his core, and very few mediums seem to escape him. “I’ve always been into art, music and design…that sort of thing, but woodworking is a fairly recent endeavor for me,” Ratzlaff says. “But I always like seeing if I can succeed at something without someone else leading the way. If it weren’t woodworking, it would be something else. I’d start from the bottom, see if people enjoyed what I was doing, and then try to make it successful.”
For Appendage & Bough, it seems that the
great motivator is exactly that: enjoyment. Enjoyment of the material, the
process and the finished piece, crafted by hand to warm the spirit twice.
Appendage & Bough • (805) 801-1981