Jim Mallay leans in, getting a closer look at an under-construction garden seat on the workbench in the shop beside his house. This is the first time he’s built this version, and already he sees some changes that will be made for the second one. The piece is a two-seater, with an attached table between the seats.
Behind him, large shelves, separated by another workbench against the wall, are filled with cedar. On one side are stacked finished parts for a multitude of chairs. The other shelving unit holds cedar, cut to length and waiting to be turned into furniture parts. Upstairs, in the attic storage area, are completed chairs and other outdoor furniture.
At the time Home & Cabin visited Jim’s shop, where he mostly works alone, but will sometimes bring in a friend to give him a hand, he was working on getting ready for the season, busily building pieces for upcoming shows, like the Downhome Expo and the St. John’s Farmers Market.
The Adirondack chair is a cabin classic, a low-slung, sizable seat found across the country and first made in 1903. These days, you can buy one in wood or plastic at a number of shops. But here in Newfoundland, it isn’t easy to find a comfortable outdoor chair made with cedar, Jim discovered when he was researching outdoor furniture. Seeing a niche he could fill, he now builds outdoor furniture using western red cedar, and has developed a line of chairs, rockers, loungers, tables and cooler stands under the name Canadian Outdoor Furniture Company.
Jim’s adventure in furniture making began just shy of five years ago with a look around his home, and the realization that they needed some patio furniture. He hadn’t done much in the way of woodworking before that – he had, he says,
always been the helper rather than the lead. With an interest in woodworking and the need for a patio chair, he bought some patterns and plans, then headed into his modest basement workshop.
“When I started making, the intent was to try and sell, but it was one of those things where I’d like to sell product X but I’ve got to learn to do product X well first,” says Jim. This wasn’t just a hobby, it was the beginning of a side business.
He began his journey with a question: “If I was going to buy something, what would I buy that I could make?” The answer was outdoor furniture. He had decided on the product; now he had to figure out how to make it.
He focused on making a chair he felt was good enough to sell, trying different plans and modifying them until he got something he liked. Those first chairs were made from pine or spruce, and none of them met the quality standards that Jim had set for himself.
“The first eight or nine chairs were, you know, horrible, in terms of an end product and what I was hoping for,” he says. Then he started using western red cedar, and at about the same time figured out a chair build that he actually liked.
Having worked through about a half dozen different plans, he eventually came across one he liked and made it his own. He had, after multiple attempts, made a chair he was pleased with.
“It was almost that sort of eureka moment where you stand back and go ‘wow,’” he says.
Since those early days, he’s refined his process, built his skills, and now makes an outdoor chair of excellent quality, both sturdy and comfortable.
Jim has given careful thought to the fit of his chairs, settling on a design that provides a relaxed, comfortable seat that is relatively easy to get in and out of. The chair, he says, has been well received.
“Generally the design, the in and out of the chair, the construction – the feedback has been good,” he says.
Jim takes a fairly uncomplicated approach to deciding what he’s going to make. “If I make one and someone likes it, then I make another,” he says.
These days, he makes Adirondack chairs, rockers and gliders, as well as a two-person love seat. He also makes cooler stands, coffee tables and side tables, all of which are online at www.canadianoutdoorfurniturecompany.ca.
This story first appeared in the Summer, 2017 print issue.