Master craftsman, Michael Vlahadamis, details how passion drives his work

Art Meets Woodworking: Rustic Nature Design

Michael Vlahadamis with one of his custom river tables. Independent/Ty Wenzel

Master woodworker, Michael Vlahadamis, comes from the local family that owned the Hampton Bays Diner for over 30 years before it closed in 2015. In fact, his work is in several restaurants because the modern lines in the work complements hospitality, though residential clients adore his work so much they rarely eat on the river tables that he has perfected.

Vlahadamis sources the wood, cuts it down, shapes it, puts the logs together like a puzzle, and for the river table, creates the space in which the tinted resin or glass will fill the void — creating the illusion of a river running through the natural lines of the tree’s offering. We met with the Noguchi-esque artist in his studio in Hampton Bays to see one of the river tables as well as one in the works. Don’t be surprised if his pieces are on display in a museum someday.

Michael, your work looks like you’re experienced in everything from carpentry to engineering. How did you come to create Rustic Nature Design?

I have a background in a vast amount of trades that I have honed over the years. Since childhood, I’ve had the knack for a hands-on approach to learning, whether from observation or self-taught. Drawing, designing, and building became traits of mine from a very early age, which were noticed and encouraged by my parents and elders around me. Although being a mechanical engineer major through my college years, particularly machining, woodworking has always been a passion of mine since my childhood visits to my grandparent’s neighbor’s basement woodshop.

Through my life experiences, I came to the realization that I could bring a dying art and skill of handcrafted woodwork back to life in an environment where mass production has diluted the quality and appreciation of furniture. This is the drive behind what has now become Rustic Nature, not just a company but an atmosphere that I have created that fills the void of handcrafted one-off pieces.

Independent/Courtesy Rustic Nature Design

Do you locally source these beautiful slabs?

Most of my lumber, as much as possible, whether it be live edge slabs or dimensional, I have obtained as logs from a local arborist and milled into usable lumber myself via a massive sawmill. This is how I am able to set myself apart from others in my trade. Milling lumber has been a self-taught trial and error endeavor over many years, which now allows me the ability to yield such unique stock to work with.

Does the wood’s natural nooks and crevices that hold the tinted-resin dictate the design of the river table?

River tables uphold a high level of uniqueness. They are definitely one of my favorite pieces to make. Mother nature is something we have no control over and with river tables each individual live edge slab dictates its own direction. It is only with vision and skill that can you assist in bringing mother nature’s beauty into a piece. If the slab’s natural live edge is not appreciated and utilized, the final product would just lose its value in my opinion. Just let nature take its course.

Independent/Courtesy Rustic Nature Design

What kind of wood are you using for the tables? Is it the same for the other products, like the cheeseboards?

My lumber consists of all types of hardwoods to create pieces, both indigenous wood species as well as exotics from various regions and continents. I have favorites, but I love them all. Certain pieces and applications will narrow the selection of lumber species. For the most part, all hardwoods will suffice for projects, from a table all the way down to a charcuterie board, though vision and skill must always take a role in choosing the right wood for the project.

Do you handle the process yourself start to finish?

Rustic Nature carries the statute of providing a 360-degree process, meaning from soil to home. It’s in my hands 100 percent. From raw-milled lumber to hand-planed surfaces, even metal fabrication, I cover it all.

Can you map out a sample timeline?

River tables are a tedious project to tackle using either glass or resin. Everything has to be done right to deliver a quality, long lasting product, as you only get one chance to do so. Assuming the extensive and precise drying process of live edge slabs is out of the way, a slab can then be planed and flattened to the desired thickness. The slab is then cut in half down the length, put into a fabricated mold particular to that slab with live edges facing each other and then the highest quality epoxy resin, tinted with either mine or a client’s color selection, is poured into the mold to cure for five days in a climate-controlled room.

When cured, the table is planed, then put through stages of sanding until every square inch is flawless and ready for finish. A finish is applied to magnify the wood’s natural grain patterns and beauty. Leg style chosen for a particular piece are fastened, and off it goes to a client.

Independent/Courtesy Rustic Nature Design

That means that every piece is one of a kind?

When pertaining to live edge furniture, every piece is one of a kind. No two slabs are the same, regardless if from the same log.

Can you tell us all of the products you offer, from fine furniture to décor?

Rustic Nature can design and build any style, type, or application of furniture one desires. I have completed a vast array of projects including tables of all sorts, bars, bed frames, barn doors, custom doors, outdoor furniture, cutting/charcuterie boards and wall art/décor. Whatever you can think of, I can bring to life. “From soil grown roots to beauty in your home, Rustic Nature will deliver.”

Independent/Courtesy Rustic Nature Design

Are your products sold online or any retail outlets? How would someone purchase, say a table or cheeseboard?

My products are only obtainable through direct contact or via my network of interior designers, architects, and builders who I work closely with.

When you’re not designing and building these gorgeous pieces, what do you do for fun?

If I am not living out my passions in the shop or enjoying time with my daughter and family, I spend my free time as an avid outdoorsman big game bow hunting all over the country or enjoying certain motorsports.

To reach Vlahadamis or inquire about his pieces or to commission your own, call 631-644-5839 or visit www.rusticnaturedesign.com.

ty@indyeastend.com