Woodshop News

Head line: Young pro lands prestigious commission
Subhead: Peter Aleksa is busy making chairs for New York’s Gracie Mansion

In June Peter Aleksa was commissioned by the Gracie Mansion Conservancy in Manhattan to produce a set of 24 Federal style dining room chairs. The Conservancy was established in 1981 to maintain and preserve Gracie Mansion- the official residence of New York’s mayors since 1942- that was built in 1799 as a summer residence for prosperous shipping merchant Archibald Gracie. Interior Designer Jamie Drake contacted Peter after viewing his website portfolio which featured the Federal style square back chair that was chosen as the model for the commission. Drake was the designer in charge of a restoration of Gracie Mansion in 2002, undertaken to return the house to its historic grandeur and provide increased accessibility to the public.

“I was excited about it. It’s definitely a great feather in my cap to be 34 years old and making chairs on this level,” said Aleksa, who has eight years experience as a pro and makes all types of furniture. “It’s definitely a great job. But on the flip side it’ 24 chairs and it can be repetitive, monotonous work.”

Peter had originally replicated one arm chair to fill out a set of period chairs that his friend owns. Those chairs happen to be for sale, so at the time of the request, Aleksa asked Gracie Mansion if they would be interested in purchasing a set of eight, but they needed 24 to accommodate the number of people that can be seated at a dining room table.

The process was extremely straightforward, said Aleksa. He and Drake discussed pricing and then Peter delivered two arm chairs, the original and its replica, to the mansion for staff and board members to view in the context of the house’s dining room. He began working on the chairs in July and is planning on delivering them in late December.

Though no chair is easy to make, Aleksa said the Federal style square back is fairly straightforward. The most challenging work is in the exact duplication of the carving required for each.

The chairs will be stained and glazed by Aleksa, who is also experienced in finishing. They will feature horse hair fabric on the seats, in which upholstery is included in the price. Aleksa has already arranged to sub-contract that job to a specialist.

Aleksa grew up in Cheshire, Conn., and received a degree from the University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H., where he graduated in 1994. He followed his degree for less then two years and became disenchanted with that type of work. He was then influenced by a distant relative in Maine, a woodworker specializing in furniture repair and restoration who had attended North Bennet Street School in Boston. Aleksa was enrolled in North Bennet Street School from ’96 to ’98. That is when he started making a living doing woodworking.

Aside from the mansion commission, he currently does a variety of work for decorators, antique dealers, and collectors making furniture, including reproductions and repairs. His clientele is all over the country.

“My goal from day one, even before going to North Bennet, was that I really wanted to work for myself and run my own shop,” he said.

Contact: Cherry Brook Woodworks, 155 Cherry Brook Rd, Canton, CT 06019. Tel: 860-693-2101. www.cherrybrookwoodworks.com