Sawkille Co. Defines Rural American Design
By Andrea Pyros
Sawkille Co., a small furniture company in Rhinebeck, has been reflecting the heritage and mindset of the Hudson Valley for more than 15 years. But, though it’s hard to fathom now, appreciation for their type of goods didn’t happen right away. “Around 2010 there seemed to be a burst of activity,” explains Tara De Lisio, who runs the business with her husband, Jonah Meyer. “There was a bigger movement and appreciation for handmade goods, value in the process, and the story behind a business that became as valuable to the consumer as the product.”
Their story — told in quietly beautiful images on their blog — is one of artistry, commitment and community. Sawkille considers itself part of the “rural American design” movement. The company’s solid wood pieces are inspired by country furniture and are simple, classic, hand made, and built to improve with age and frequent use. It’s not surprising that their signature wooden stool is based on the decidedly unfussy milking stool, nor is it surprising that people are taking notice and responding to Sawkille’s gorgeous style. The company has been written up in Elle Decor, their chair was chosen by Jenna Lyons as one of her “favorite things,” and the company was selected as an honoree for the launch of the Martha Stewart American Made Awards, highlighting entrepreneurs in the United States.
Like many other craftspeople in the Hudson Valley, Meyer and De Lisio wear many hats. The partners — both in life and in work — are business owners and artists, and are committed to being active participants of the Upstate business community.
The pair first met after De Lisio moved back to our area. She’d grown up in Woodstock, but left for schooling and to live in the Southwest and California. Meyer, who designs Sawkille’s furniture, was raised in Pennsylvania, and he moved to the Catskills after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1993. Their collaboration began with Serv ce Station (without the ‘i’), a rural outpost in the Catskills that sold Meyer’s work as well as those by other artists, including De Lisio’s mother.
“It was a balancing of our skill sets that made it possible to work together and our desire to create work for ourselves that supported a life we wanted to live. We each had something to offer and it made the situation a bit more whole,” De Lisio says. In 2010, the couple decided to home in on their furniture business. They rebranded their enterprise as Sawkille Co., and worked to translate Meyer’s sensibilities into more than just a few pieces at a time. They also moved their showroom and workshop into an inviting farmhouse-modern space in Rhinebeck, 5,000 square feet of old industrial space owned by Prandoni Design and Fabrication a.k.a. the “brilliant team” of brothers Stewart and Matt Verrilli who create Sawkille’s metalwork.
“When we opened in Rhinebeck, we weren’t sure if the town was the right match,” De Lisio says, “but it has proven to be a super spot to be in business. We connect with individual homeowners as well as professionals from the design industry. It was a terrific surprise to find out who was walking the streets of this little hamlet! The business atmosphere was immediately supportive and community oriented. We’ve always felt grateful for that positivity.”
Businesses such as Paper Trail, bluecashew and Cabin Fever Outfitters were very forthcoming in sending those visiting their shops down West Market Street to Sawkille. They often heard shoppers say “we walked over here because ____ told us to come see your work.”
Their intention wasn’t just to find a way to express themselves creatively and independently, but to participate in the local economy. De Lisio says, “As a native of the area, beyond seeking adventure and wanting to see more of the world as a college graduate, one of the reasons I didn’t return to this area was that I didn’t feel there was diversity in employment options. So it has become a very meaningful part of what we do to create a work environment that would be enticing, and would allow people to put down roots and invest in being in this area.”
Photos courtesy of Sawkille Co.
After 18 years of a successful partnership, the couple’s roles still switch and responsibilities continue to change. But, “at the core, Jonah is the artist and I push the vision and tease out possibilities, tossing them at Jonah and letting him turn them into something that I feel is magical, through his creative process,” says De Lisio. “Our goals are to support each other to have the best life each can have; in most recent times that has meant Jonah would be intensely hands-on with the work of Sawkille and I would delve into how to bring our family along — without losing the integrity and soul of what we both feel essential to a life we can feel grounded in and joyful about.”
31 West Market St., Rhinebeck, NY
Showroom open: Thursday – Monday