Joe Bedford, a 1993 Kuemper Catholic High School graduate and son of Elmer and Kathy Bedford of Carroll, has opened a woodworking studio and art gallery in the Little Italy area of San Diego, Calif.
Joe Bedford, a 1993 Kuemper Catholic High School graduate and son of Elmer and Kathy Bedford of Carroll, has opened a woodworking studio and art gallery in the Little Italy area of San Diego, Calif.
Monday, July 23, 2012

Situated in Little Italy, an area commonly known as the heart of San Diego, there is a space shared by Bedford Built, a woodworking studio, Coalesce, an art gallery, and the finely honed skills of one man.

Joe Bedford had a vision in his early 20s. He dreamt of one day owning his own woodworking business and creating one-of-a-kind pieces. He discovered his love of wood while assembling furniture at Room & Board in Minneapolis in the late ’90s.

In 1999 Joe, a 1993 Kuemper Catholic graduate and son of Elmer and Kathy Bedford of Carroll, left the Midwest and ventured out West. His adventurous spirit led him to live and work in a handful of major cities. He spent his time in the construction trades working mainly as a finish cabinet maker and learned how to manufacture and fabricate (assemble) designs.

For three years, he worked and lived in a different city, for about seven months at a time. He was able to find high-end shops in which to work and learn the ins and outs of the woodworking craft in Eugene, Ore., Flagstaff, Ariz., Salt Lake City, Utah, and Los Angeles, Calif. Not only were these great cities in which to work, Joe found them to be exceptional cities in which to live as well. In 2002, Joe decided Southern California was the place for him and settled in San Diego.

In 2004, Bedford Built opened its doors. Joe had achieved his goal, to own a woodworking business focusing on furniture design and fabrication for homeowners and designers. In 2007, Joe met another goal of his by graduating with honors from The Art Institute of California in San Diego with a degree in interior design.

Joe said he couldn’t have found a better location for his studio and gallery. Little Italy is located in downtown San Diego, a place known for fabulous food, festivals, shopping and art galleries.

Joe had a specific vision for his woodworking studio, Bedford Built, and his adjoining gallery, Coalesce. “I wanted clients to be able to view their products being built while in comforts of the gallery. Design is always a collaborative effort, either with the client, other designers, or simply just a piece of wood,” he said.

Joe describes his career path as flowing in unison with his vision. He has always been working to improve his level of skill and artistry. He said it began with learning to build the footings of a house to now furnishing the insides of a home.

His original plan was to not only be a fabricator for designers, but he wanted to add a design element to his business. At Bedford Built he began by fabricating exclusively for designers and architects, but Joe said, “I always knew that to really make it in this environment in San Diego, I would have to be the designer. I had the knowledge to build and recognize design, now it was my turn to start and finish the build.”

Joe wanted his furniture to be functional, but it also needed to be aesthetically pleasing.

He said, “There is definitely that fine line when dealing with this, but I also find myself stretching this line. ... This is always pushing me to find that perfect design. I try never to recreate the wheel, but how to use it to further my creativity.”

Bedford Built has designed pieces for San Diego State University and the University of California San Diego. Joe said the timing was perfect for his work at UCSD as he had just reclaimed a felled redwood dress from Balboa Park at the exact same time the architect came to Joe to commission him to do a sculpture piece. The sculpture called, “Muir Reflections,” was from a local redwood from the largest park in the county.

When Joe was also commissioned to design and fabricate a conference table for DPR, one of the largest construction companies in the United States, he wanted to use more than one material. The new DPR office in San Diego boasted a Hawaiian theme. Joe designed a 20-foot-long table the shape of a surfboard made of zebrawood, a naturally striped veneer, and wenge, a dark colored wood.

To create the illusion the surfboard was slicing through the ocean Joe shaped the blue patina metal to resemble the wake and placed underlit crushed glass throughout the bottom of the base.

When building furniture Joe tries to use solid wood with an edge from the outside of the tree. An edge showcases as much of the natural grain of the wood as possible.

Joe always has his eye out for the best parts of the wood such as burl, one of the most expensive cuts, or the crutch (where the trunk has split into two or more limbs). However he is conscientious about his hunger for the wood.

As Joe explains, “It is a renewable resource, but it takes almost a lifetime to replace, so I don’t get too greedy.”

Besides wood Joe enjoys incorporating other materials into his work. He almost always adds another material such as acrylic or metal. “I really enjoy working with acrylic. It makes for a great combination with the incredible figures of the woods I have been blessed with. It really highlights the wood and not itself. I also use a lot of metal which I usually patina to get the desired look,” shared Joe.

The studio’s website, www.bedfordbuilt.com is high-tech and interactive. It allows prospective clients to see an online portfolio of Joe’s array of work, such as custom designed kitchen cabinets, an ornate headboard and footboard, and a cross inside a church.

However, not all of Joe’s designs are so precisely designed and constructed. Joe creates mainly one-of-a-kind furniture pieces to showcase at Coalesce www.4coalesce.com, his art gallery. These pieces are made without a sketch or computer-aided design or drawing behind them.

Joe calls these pieces his woodworking therapy. He usually builds an artistic piece in between each of his commission projects.

Joe explains, “This is where my true love for my craft is at. Here if I make a mistake, it’s meant to be, and it doesn’t cost me lots of money or time to fix it.”

Joe loves to challenge himself to create unusual, yet striking pieces. His love of different kinds of wood runs deep. He uses mainly hardwoods and sometimes exotic veneer. He selects specific woods based on the look he is aiming to achieve.

The gallery, Coalesce, also serves many purposes. Joe said he wanted to project professionalism to his prospective clients as they walked into his gallery. He wanted to clients to see his gallery as a “tangible portfolio” of his work and capabilities.

Coalesce gives Joe the opportunity to market his business and showcase his furniture pieces. The gallery has a regular rotation of well-established local artists that display their work, and it participates in special events held to showcase art and design in the north section of Little Italy.

Joe especially loves his time in the studio when he can create and build for both business and pleasure. He is thankful he continues to be commissioned for projects that are always pushing his limits.

Joe hopes to continue to pursue his livelihood and sustain his life on furniture and fabrication. Joe is always working to become a one-stop shop by networking with other designers and fabricators. He owes much credit to the amazing fabricators in his circle.

He is also thankful for the incredible support he receives from his family in Carroll.

Joe said, “It’s very difficult to live so far away from the ones I love, but they recognize my goals and understand why I’m here.”