Keith Allen


My wood furniture often features natural aspects of the material.  Design may be motivated by the material itself, or, sometimes, by language (e.g. a song lyric or everyday phrase.)

I seldom rely on drawings, other than a quick, rough sketch.  I prefer to use my eyes for understanding relationships and details as a design evolves.  Geometry plays a strong role, perhaps hearkening back to earlier careers in math and computer science.  My pieces are functional, but I concentrate on form, and let the eventual user decide particulars of how, or where, to use a piece. I sometime juxtapose rustic natural details and stark geometry in the same piece.  Asymmetry and open space are common features, as are contrasting woods and colors. Technically, my work is largely traditional.  I employ hand-cut dovetails, mortise-and-tenon joinery, and a hand finish using a variety of oils, varnishes, waxes, dyes, and milk paint. 

Born in 1945 in the Midwest, Keith grew up in Virginia.  He enjoyed drawing and making things.  His early ambitions included architecture and automotive design.   Upon graduating from high school when he was barely 16, he wanted to attend General Motors Institute.  Being too young to qualify for that program, he went instead to the University of Virginia, where he studied mathematics, earning B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.  A twenty-year teaching career followed, gradually transitioning from mathematics to computer science, in which he earned an M.A., from Indiana University. While teaching, Keith taught himself woodworking and furniture making on weekends, in a garage workshop.  Early influences, which continue to the present, were George Nakashima, whose work featured natural edges and butterfly joints, and Gerrit Rietveld, whose work was starkly geometric and brightly colored.  Since 1988, Keith has lived and worked in Orange County, NC, making and selling furniture of his design.  He has published articles and letters in Fine Woodworking, Woodshop News, and Woodwork.