“We design and build gates, passageways, and arbours with the same emphasis on design and attention to detail that you would find in furniture making.”
The wooden gates and walls that come from Victoria Wood Studio are more sculptural pieces than utilitarian yard furniture. Dieuwartje von Aesch makes a miniature version of each piece she’s commissioned to build, accurate to the tiniest details.
“All of our work is finished like furniture,” says Frances Sidhe.
The partners met when both worked at a Vancouver restaurant where von Aesch was a chef. “She always had a background as an artist,” Sidhe says. At art school, von Aesch took painting and graphic design and what she does now is “blending technology and fine art as a discipline.”
“I always loved architectural garden furniture,” says von Aesch, who got serious about switching careers with the Camosun College fine woodworking program. She followed up with a “deeper look” at the Inside Passage School of Fine Woodworking on the Sunshine Coast, where the program suited her attention to detail: “They’ll spend a week on sharpening.”
No two projects from Victoria Wood Studio are alike; each commission is a custom design. What she does isn’t just carpentry. Von Aesch has an artist’s attitude towards her work and an appreciation for the raw material — mainly western red cedar. “You have to have a respect for it. I have a passion for it. I connect with it on a personal level,” she says.
The biggest challenge in starting the business? Von Aesch answers with one word: installation. “We were really naïve — we thought we wouldn’t do installation,” says Sidhe, who does estimates and costing for each project.
But after almost three years building the finely made pieces, “I’m starting to feel this is a challenge I can handle,” says von Aesch, admitting she now enjoys this part of each project.
They work differently from a carpenter you’d hire to build something in the backyard. They don’t arrive on site with a load of lumber, a van full of tools, and start sawing and hammering. It begins in the studio with a detailed plan when von Aesch works out the technical problems. A scale model follows that wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery.
Victoria Wood Studio doesn’t have a typical customer for its high-end projects. “There really aren’t any,” says Sidhe, “but they’ve managed to connect with homeowners who want something different.”
“That person doesn’t want just a fence,” she says. “Those are the ones we click with,” adds von Aesch. A typical commission costs $15,000 to $20,000. A couple of recent projects were for architects.
“Part of the challenge is getting people to realize how labour-intensive this is,” says von Aesch.
The 120-year-old Fernwood cottage, a designated heritage house, where they both live and work “has been a great inspiration for the business,” she says.
The partners in Victoria Wood Studio strive for a balance between profits, people, and the planet, although they do the usual business networking too, with membership in the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. “We’re in a category with people who build million-dollar homes. It keeps us on our toes,” says Sidhe.
“It’s a business and a life,” says von Aesch. Her partner adds: “We feel fantastic about it.”