A Hobby of Love – Tim Arnoux

Tim Arnoux is a quiet humble man, but when he talks about his woodworking, he is genuine charm. His face lights up. He gets animated with enthusiasm touching the woods on his latest piece of furniture. Tim works from a different kind of adrenalin. He refers to it as a zone, “It’s hard to stop, I just want to get to the end.”

I arrive to meet, and am directed to a set of stairs descending into the basement. I see lots of smoke, or dust and the noise of a table saw grinding in the background as I peek into his world of woodworking. This is what some would call a “man cave” it’s his favorite place to be when he is in the midst of a project.

I arrive to see three beautiful wooden cabinets with tall legs. It’s a series; one, two and three. The next more complicated than the prior. The woods are beyond enticing, even to my untrained eye. Some look like they are alive, with Rorschach images we ponder the grain. I see a Buddha, he sees a lantern, and we discuss the types of wood, Purple Heart, Wenge, Curly Maple, American Holly and Golden Camphor Burl. I am quickly drawn into his world of wood and wonder.

Tim came to appreciate wood when he worked as a framer and taught woodworking at McAteer High School in San Francisco in the 70’s. He says “wood is just something I have been around. It’s something I am always surprised by.” Tim’s career took him from San Francisco 40 years ago to Lagunitas where he and his wife, Lenore bought a dilapidated home. This home is a gem, perched over the creek. It has a warm, embrace you feel as soon as you arrive. “But it hasn’t always looked like this” he says. The stories he tells of its past are in themselves reminiscent of his love of wood. It’s as if he saw this home as something to be revealed.

The hardwood floors in each room have a distinct pattern marching around the perimeter. And each one, he says, “was built on the one prior. I tried to challenge myself each time to do something different, something more challenging. I just push myself with each one; it’s what I have always done.”

Tim shows me a antique cabinet in the corner of the living room. “This is what I studied. The proportions, the feeling of this old piece of furniture are what I wanted to duplicate.” I can see the similarity immediately, but his pieces have taken design to a new understanding. Each surface of his cabinets are covered with complex wooden geometries, so well-crafted I can’t find one mistake or piece that isn’t perfectly inlaid. His attention to detail is insane perfection. I want to touch everything, play chess on the side of a cabinet; I could sit and stare at the Buddha for hours.

Tim reaches into a stack of wood in his shop, “see this,” he says “see how it dances? I can’t wait to use this in my next piece.” I see a piece of wood, no dancing to my untrained eye, but what I do see is Tim’s dancing spirit, it’s like a child at Christmas. He sees so much more then I in this unfinished piece of wood. Then Tim ads water to it, and voila. It is dancing just as he said it would. He has a huge smile and suddenly the package is opened, like Christmas morning. Tim’s ability to see something that others don’t, whether it’s the gem of his home waiting to be revealed or a new piece of furniture in his mind comes to life. Tim’s dedication and perseverance is beyond any I have known. “It takes me one month to make each cabinet. And I never draw it out first. It’s in here.” He points to his head and the wood. The two work together in their mission of creation.

Tim is facing the fact his body is aging. He does not however give in, or up. He is 70 and his knee no longer functions the way it used to. Now being semi-retired from his career as a painter, Tim has decided to get his knee replaced. I have heard that the recovery of knee surgery can be grueling. But I have no doubt Tim will “just want to get to the end.” He will see the recovery as a process and will plow right through it, just like his labor of love for wood. I wonder what will brew in his mind when he is working on mending his knee.