Graduate from Camosun College's Fine Furniture Program Combines Entrepreneurship with a Passion for Design
Nathan Holder is a man of many talents. "I'm a tinkerer by trade," he says. "Right out of high school I worked as a machinist and millwright and I spent 13 years in the air force as a mechanic and instructor."
Originally from Ontario, in 2012, he enrolled in Camosun's award-winning Fine Furniture program. "I was nervous because it was my first schooling outside of high school but right away I knew it had a different atmosphere than most programs," he says. "All the students really wanted to be there and as the days progressed, I knew it was going to be the best decision I'd made."
Over the course of the program, Holder thrived, inspired by the interdisciplinary and applied learning approach taken by lead instructors Cam Russell and Ken Guenter. "Basically, it was a whirlwind of learning a multiple of skills related to woodworking," he says. "You start off with the requirements to prepare you to take the red seal joinery ticket, and you also learn about furniture history, design, and how to prepare a business plan. It touches on basically every possible avenue for your future career."
After graduation, Holder went job hunting. "I was fortunate because the first two places I went and talked to, gave me hours right away," he says. "I worked with two local companies, Fawcett Manufacturing and Trade Roots and I was building modern and industrial style-furniture from reclaimed materials, doing a lot of repurposing. It was really cool work."
When the owners of Trade Roots retired, Holder struck out on his own. "My business is called Chickadee Offcuts and the name comes from my habit of using reclaimed wood," he says. "I do custom furniture and even after five years in business, I've never built the same thing twice, so everyday there's a new and exciting challenge."
Holder is one of a select group of Fine Furniture alumni whose work is featured in "Making It: A 30-Year Retrospective Celebration of Camosun College's Fine Furniture Program" on now at UVic's Legacy Art Gallery downtown.
For the exhibition, he designed a chair that aligns with his overall philosophy to woodworking. "My vision is that I allow the wood to dictate my designs," he says. "I typically love the simplicity of mid-century furniture so I will come up with a design, and once I'm happy with it go to my piles of reclaimed and discarded wood in my collection and start pulling out what I think will work best with the design."
"My exhibit chair has very linear lines and the impact is in the small details," notes Holder. "I've lathed spindles for a back rest and then shaped spindles at the back and a small cube underneath. It only has one arm and it's kind of like an artsy lounge chair with crimson red wool upholstery."
In many ways, Holder's career has come full circle. For the past year, Holder has run his business part-time while working the rest of his day as the Tool Room Technician in Camosun's Fine Furniture program.
"I love it and my wife actually makes fun of me because she says that I couldn't have built two better jobs for myself," he says. "I love coming to the college every morning and I really enjoy being a guide and helping the students develop their skills. Ken and Cam built a legacy with this program and Sandra Carr, our new program lead, is an absolutely incredible builder and teacher."
Holder notes that the Fine Furniture program creates a special bond between students, instructors and alumni. "It's a community and we often have students coming back to see what's happening," he says. "Nobody wants to leave at the end of the day, everyone wants to keep working in the shop and that's a really cool feeling."