Creative Genius: Doorman Designs
New Orleans funkiness births an artisan who turns old wood into heirloom-worthy furniture.
The South has long had a reputation for cherishing old things: old buildings, family heirlooms, history and objects with the mellow patina of time passed.
Alex Geriner, 30, of Doorman Designs is one of those character-crazy Southerners, mad for the unique, weathered qualities of beautifully distressed, time-aged wood.
He loves it so much, in fact, he’s made burnished, water-damaged wood into a business.
For the past five years, Geriner has been harvesting poplar, cypress and heart pine from New Orleans buildings being renovated or obliterated, and turning the wood into furniture—headboards, coffee tables, consoles, dining tables and other objects with a rich, character-laden patina hard to come by in an age of Made in China, assembly-line produced products. “No two pieces are ever alike,” notes Geriner with pride, whose pieces are competitively priced in the $400-$2,000 range, far less than you’d expect from custom furniture. In fact, Geriner thinks the handmade, made-in-America origin of his furniture “made by a real human being” is a very big part of Doorman Designs’ appeal for his customers (who tend to aggregate on both coasts with a large contingent in the Southeast) who most often find and buy his work online.
“I’ve always been fascinating by how life operated before my time,” admits Geriner, who’s also a big history buff, currently deep diving into the quirky history of the Storyville neighborhood of New Orleans, a vice-ridden red light district.
“Anything that has any sort of nostalgia to it is much more rewarding to me than something brand new and shiny,” he admits.
Sometimes Geriner buys his wood, sometimes it’s donated, and sometimes he will barter for it, trading a custom piece for a load of well-used lumber. “Once people realize you’re doing cool stuff with old wood, they literally come out of the wood work…pun intended!”
In his native New Orleans, water plays a big part in the look of the wood Geriner forms into romantic consoles with elaborate wrought-iron legs or blocky, contemporary coffee tables in shades of wheat and tobacco. There’s both the infernal humidity that hangs in the air like a wet sock and the distinct water lines left by Hurricane Katrina which create tie-dye-like stains on the wood. “Water is everywhere down here,” Geriner says.
Doorman Designs was inspired, says Geriner, by two things.
Like many millennials turned organic farmers and makers of every sort, Geriner was driven by a deep sense of dissatisfaction. He looked around at his life working in advertising at a big New Orleans firm after graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi and says “at 25 I had a quarter-life crisis.”
“I really panicked and thought there had to be something more fulfilling.”
He dealt with his “freak out” by talking it out with friends and family, and logging time in the self-help book aisle, eventually turning his hobby into a “full-time gig with three employees.”
Geriner’s second source of inspiration to strike out on his own was his grandfather, a Purple Heart-awarded WWII vet who started a gardening co-op in Hattiesburg, Mississippi with other local farmers selling everything from plants and animal feed to chickens eggs in what sounds like a progenitor of the modern citified farmers’ market. “He was a hipster way before it was cool,” laughs Geriner.
Today, Geriner is happy as a clam, ensconced in his 1870s-era New Orleans apartment with its high ceilings, crown molding and wedding cake plaster work, creating objects imbued with the same sense of integrity and authenticity that makes New Orleans such an ideal berth for his business. “You’re basically living in a history book at any moment,” says Geriner of his funky, history-stained adopted city.
Interested in creating your own reclaimed wood projects? Geriner offers this advice to fellow lovers of upcycled timber:
Less Is More
“Let the wood do the talking,” says Geriner, and keep embellishment to a minimum, with no elaborate carvings or details.
Keep It Simple
Modern, contemporary style allows the wood’s character to best come through.
Old wood isn’t square, it isn’t always the same thickness, it’s bowed and twisted, “which kind of drives us crazy.” Work with those qualities, rather than trying to fight them.