In a city populated by pre-Civil War buildings rife with history, the tale behind Michael Moran’s new upper Meeting Street woodworking studio completely deviates from the norm. “It used to be a biker bar and strip club,” he says. “So when we first came in, most of the walls had floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and one room was painted pink and blue with mirrored tiles over it.”
Moran and Celia Gibson, co-owners of Michael James Moran Woodworked Furniture, have been operating their business out of the space for the past six months, just a short distance from the studio Moran previously occupied for seven years. Located on a one-acre lot tucked in between two railroad tracks, the one-story gray-and-red concrete structure has been a labor of love for the pair. “Celia is the one who had the original vision to make this building what we needed it to be, because it did not look like this when we first saw it,” Moran says. In addition to the strip-club vibe, the building was also ridiculously cluttered — it had served as a storage space for some time — and in need of serious repairs. “What you see now is essentially the building being stripped back to its frame and in some cases, especially with glass, being built back up,” Gibson says.
They entered into the project with the goal of taking advantage of the extra interior and exterior space that their previous studio had been lacking. Right outside the new studio, whose entrance is lined with Japanese hollies and rosemary — a peaceful juxtaposition to its industrial atmosphere — sit two refurbished shipping containers, a 20-foot one serving as a solar-operated kiln used to dry wood and a 40-foot one used for wood storage. “There’s a pretty intense drying period to get the wood prepared to be made into furniture,” Moran says. Gibson adds, “We really control that first part of the process, and having enough storage space allows us to do that efficiently.”
The actual furniture pieces are created in the studio’s woodshop and completed in what they refer to as the “finish room,” which smells of oranges due to the finishing chemicals they use. “What’s amazing is that this space is a step-by-step microcosm for what we do,” Gibson says. “We’re able to bring people through the workshop and into the completed conference room.”
As 80 percent of their workload is commissioned pieces, it was important to the pair that their newly painted navy conference room act as a sleek area in which they could discuss projects while also showing finished pieces to their clients. “The previous space was all woodshop and half the size of the building. There wasn’t even a semi-finished space. Now we have a proper conference area and office,” Moran says.
Despite all the renovations, Moran and Gibson also retained some of the building’s kitschy aspects. “We tried to keep some of the original murals,” Moran says. They decided to leave two that previously served as signs for the men’s and women’s restrooms — vintage-looking depictions of a man and woman, with an early Warhol vibe to them. They even left the mustache that someone had drawn on the man in typical restroom-graffiti style way back when.
Creating a comfortable atmosphere was important, as Moran and Gibson say they spend the majority of their time in the new studio, where they’re usually joined by their four-year-old rescued greyhound Addie. “We love being up here in terms of the space that we have and what it allows us to do for our work,” Gibson says.