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Character Building

Carpenter and designer Matthew Holdren creates custom wood pieces with reclaimed materials

eugenia uhl photographs

The term “unique” is often overused in marketing, design, writing and everyday language. What makes something truly unique is a rarity. Mass production and cultural assimilation make it especially difficult to find pieces that are actually one of a kind.

We are blessed, however, to live in a city of creative geniuses eager to accept the challenge of crafting something special. One of those creators is a scruffy, blue-eyed carpenter, who is building a custom housing complex, and owns a furniture making business, which creates eye-catching pieces found in various retail stores and shops around the city. His name is Matthew Holdren.

Holdren, a New Orleans-transplant hailing from Vermont, began working with wood when he was in the first grade, building tree houses using scrap materials that his father (also a carpenter) would bring home from work.

“Growing up watching him build our second house from scratch got me very in tune with it, I was just observing and absorbing,” he said.

Holdren is often contacted to beautify interiors and exteriors of buildings for commercial retailers and restaurants; he recently appeared in an episode of “The Deed” with Sidney Torres. You may have seen his colorful and rustic-feeling handcrafted designs in popular spots such as Blue Oak BBQ, Hale Stewart, Toast’s Fair Grounds location, Friend menswear store at the Ace Hotel or The Parker Barber in the Central Business District. He also creates custom pieces for residential buyers including staircases, shelving, benches, tables and chairs, handmade to each customer’s specific needs and home’s space. Regarding uniqueness, none of Holdren’s pieces are exactly alike, although most hold true to his taste and unmistakable design.

“I work primarily with reclaimed materials,” said Holdren. “These materials have beautiful patinas, they have saw marks, chips and some dents, so I try to do a straightforward design with my approach.”

Falling somewhere between the realm of modern and contemporary, Holdren points to his signature technique of using cubes studs in all of his pieces and the natural beauty of the reclaimed materials used. While he has made furniture to sell each year at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival’s market, this year he took a break from the event to focus on his business.

“In the past three years or so, my business has been working on a lot of interiors, where I will go into restaurants or a retail space and learn about how the client wants to use the space,” Holdren says. “I will come to them with materials I want to use and hand sketches to show them my vision.”

Eschewing high-tech tools to come up with his proposals, Holdren says he begins by trying to understand the client’s intentions and what they are looking to embellish.  

A significant amount of the process involves getting to know the client, their space and how they will use the piece. Asking questions about the floor color and covering, how the client likes to dine or entertain and whether or not they have children helps him determine the design.  

 While he doesn’t have an open showroom, the restaurants and retail stores in which his work is housed, act as a showroom for him.

“People will walk into these places and notice the shelving, or the counters and stools and they will ask about the builder and designer and I will get a call from someone who wants that look and feel in their home or shop too.”

Follow Holdren on Instagram, @matthewholdrendesign or email at mtholdren@gmail.com.
 

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