Woodworker creates lasting furniture, carves path for local craftsmen

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Michael McDunn designs and constructs wooden pieces from trinket boxes to dressers. Photo by Will Crooks.

Michael McDunn, owner of the Michael McDunn Studio in Greenville, crafts unique wood furniture for clients all over the eastern U.S. and even Europe.

But before he established his showroom and connecting studio in 1981, McDunn had an interesting beginning in South Carolina. Pennsylvania native McDunn moved to Greenville in the early ‘70s in search of a higher-paying job.

“Probably the first two weeks I lived in my car,” McDunn says. Ensuring that he would never be in that predicament again, McDunn bought a school bus to convert into a camper. 

After a construction accident, McDunn was out of work and lived in the bus for about four months. “That was kind of an interesting episode of life — it was kind of fun,” he says.

During that time, McDunn and a friend would do relief carvings of birds and animals. He and his friend had both done woodcarving in Boy Scouts and bonded over the shared experience.

Despite having asthma and a wood allergy, McDunn began woodworking in a serious way and discovered his passion for the craft.

He learned much about his craft during his five years as the resident woodworker at the Greenville County Museum of Art. 

“It gave me … a better-than-average foundation to get started on — both as to what good design was, and what it was not, and not to get caught in little trends and fads of what people are doing,” he says.

His work is constantly evolving, but tables remain his favorite projects.

“Right now, rustic, natural-edge furniture and stuff is the trend, and I’ve been oddly enough making that for almost 40 years,” McDunn says. “But it was much harder to sell years ago.”

Today, with tastes varying from person to person, McDunn feels stretched with each project.

“[My favorite process] is designing the pieces and coming up with a piece that’s going to fit in a particular environment, which can be challenging,” he says.

McDunn, along with four others, established the Greenville Woodworkers Guild in 1981, which now includes over 700 members.

“I like sharing my information that I’ve acquired over the years from woodworking,” McDunn says. He’s taught woodworking classes at his studio since the late ‘90s and enjoys seeing classmates become friends.

“To have people from their late 20s to their 70s, Democrats, Republicans, and then everybody’s having a good time helping each other out and doing their projects,” he says. “That’s just something I find that’s extremely satisfying.”

While some may consider handmade furniture expensive, McDunn thinks of furniture as one of three big purchases in life. 

“One is your house, the other’s your car, the other’s your furniture,” he says. “Your furniture is something that, if you shop wisely, is going to be around for the rest of your life, and you’ll probably give it to somebody down the road.”

McDunn’s work can be seen at his showroom on 741 Rutherford Road in Greenville.

McDunn designed and installed a walk-in closet, which is his biggest project to date, for a client in the Southeast.

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