Interview with Aaron Stevenot

Words by Michelle Heslop. Portrait by Jody Beck.

Woodworking seems to be in your blood. Can you tell us where it all began? I suppose it was my parents that first saw my interest in woodworking when I was about ten years old. They convinced my uncle to lend me his ancient, cast-iron machines and my dad would bring home old wood pallets from the shipyard for me to build with. I turned them into coffee tables, end tables and all kinds of useful things for family and friends. As a teenager, I spent a lot of time in my uncle’s cabinet shop in Sidney. He gave me odd jobs around his shop — to keep me busy and out of trouble more than anything. In high school, my woodwork teacher, Mr. Ashton, recognized my entrepreneurial side and looked the other way while I had half the class building Adirondack chairs to sell out the back door — usually to other teachers.

Tell us about being known as, “the door guy.” I think that name was given to me when I started making oversized entryway doors for custom-built homes. When I started Karmanah Wood Design in 2009, I imagined we would be a complete joinery shop, but the requests kept coming for bigger and bigger doors. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, “How big is my neighbour’s door? Because I want mine bigger!” So we were recognized for our doors early on which was great because I really enjoy pushing the design as creatively as I can.

How do you decide on a design for a door? Design starts after a meeting with the
client and sometimes with the architect or designer. We go over the complete design brief, looking closely at the presentation of the façade, the building materials and colours, even the landscape and geographical terrain around the building. Every client brings a unique vision and West Coast building typologies are so varied that I always need to keep a variety
of hand-selected wood species in stock to show clients.

What does high quality and handcrafted mean to you? I like to think of high quality as being similar to the farm-to-table ideology in restaurants. Living on Vancouver Island, I can source much of my material locally. I mill the logs down the street and dry it myself in custom-built wood kilns. I offer a product that uses old school, time-tested joinery techniques and most importantly, we manufacture all our own parts in-house.

Tell us more about your commitment to using reclaimed wood and naturally
fallen trees. When I moved out on my own, I did what so many young people do; I bought inexpensive, one-time use furniture manufactured halfway around the world. Within a year, I was throwing it all in the landfill. I can’t be a part of the disposable furniture industry, so it’s important that Karmanah products are made to last generations. By sourcing materials responsibly and using naturally fallen or reclaimed wood whenever possible, we use only what the environment can provide sustainably.

Can you tell us about some of your opportunities to collaborate with other West Coast artists? I’m so grateful to John Livingston, an incredible Northwest Coast artist, master carver, and good friend. John introduced me to many different artists and cultures. It’s been a real honour to work with many Indigenous artists and carvers, often collaborating on very large commissioned artworks and installations. The most memorable of these projects was the First Peoples House at the University of Victoria. For the entryway to the ceremonial hall, I produced two four-by-eight-foot red cedar doors for
master carver, Rick Harry’s carvings. We also included casting moulds for metal
sculptural work, such as the incredible bronze whale tale. It was a real honour to work on such an important and significant local project.

How did you get into making dining tables? About four years ago a friend requested a custom dining room table. Once people saw what we were doing, a furniture business evolved. Clients who have hired me to do their doors and windows will often commission a dining table as well. I think the scale and design of the dining tables complement the scale of the entry doors.

How do you take time to unwind? Anyone close to me knows I work a lot, maybe too much. If I’m not in the shop, I’m usually out on the ocean fishing with family or friends. Sometimes I enjoy fishing solo to reset after a hectic week. It’s pretty easy for me to unwind out there hooking into salmon and halibut with no cell service to interrupt downtime. I’m also known to take off on a whim and travel to far-flung destinations. Getting off the island to experience new things makes me appreciate the place I feel so lucky to live in.

What’s on your playlist right now? My music interests constantly change but anything WuTang or Current Swell get played on the regular.