Take a drive down Route 204 to Long Beach and you’ll find a small sign in front of what appears to be a bungalow, letting you know you’ve found the Gary Bursey Furniture showroom. Walking across a wooden bridge to the front door you’ll realize this is really a two-storey building, built into the side of a steep hill that ends at the waters of Trinity Bay. Inside, a showroom of Shaker and Mission inspired furniture in an open space lit by natural light from the large windows. Tables, chairs, dressers, beds, desks and wall-mounted cabinets fill the space, each piece made by Gary.
Full of furniture, on this day the showroom is unoccupied, but the sounds of a radio drift up from the stairwell. There’s no sign barring access. Descending the stairs, the radio gets louder. A knock on the door is answered by Gary, dressed in the uniform of a working man – plaid flannel shirt and jeans.
Gary will invite you to return upstairs, to have a seat at one of the dining tables. He’ll explain to you how each one is made from cherry, his wood of choice, and built using traditional joinery methods – mortise and tenons, for this table, with the tenons pegged for added strength.
This is fine furniture, each piece made one at a time, informed by some 40-odd years of furniture making, the majority done in Quebec, near Montreal, where Gary lived until 2013. That’s when he made the move to Long Beach, where he has family and where he and his partner had been spending summers in the old house they owned in Long Beach.
They brought a full professional woodshop’s worth of tools with them, as well as entire transport trailer loads of wood for future projects, collected over many years. They built the showroom and workshop, and Gary continued his business of making fine, heirloom-quality custom furniture.
On this day, seated for an interview, we aren’t ordering furniture. But what about those who are? How does that work?
The process – the entire thing – is what Gary really likes about the work. First, the initial meeting, likely in the showroom, followed by a sketch, then a detailed 3D rendering done on the computer for the potential buyer. Once approved, Gary builds the piece, accepts payment and moves on to the next piece. It’s a process he has repeated hundreds of times, and one he enjoys.
As for the act of making, after 40 years he has an excellent grasp on the methods. Yet he’s still learning. Take, for instance, the chairs in the showroom.
They tell a story, each one evidence of a different observation or input, many from owners or potential buyers. One buyer, upon ordering a table with a set of accompanying chairs, remarked that the tall backs obscured the beautiful table. Gary shortened the backs. Another model of chair, this one with arms, was returned by two different owners, each broken in the same place. The owners admitted they used the chairs as step ladders, standing on the arms. Gary modified the chair for this unanticipated use, and now builds the arms using stronger long grain wood, like oak or hickory.
Gary is interested in form and proportion – the visual balance and feel of a piece, the way the parts interact to create a pleasing whole. To that end, he’s still experimenting with form, using his Shaker and Mission influences to create new designs, like the curved-back dining chair he developed after moving to Newfoundland. It wasn’t because he had to, but because he wanted to. Now 63, Gary says he’ll continue working for as long as he’s able.
“I just like making furniture. I like the process. You meet somebody, you make them really happy, you get some money, and then you move on to another project,” he says. “I had a retired nun (as a customer), I made her a secretary like this. She was so happy, she got down and kissed the piece of furniture. It’s people like that.”