LYNDEN - Life's pretty good for furniture maker Greg Klassen.
His daily commute to work takes, oh, about 10 seconds as he walks from his house to his backyard studio. That makes it easy to spend extra time with his wife and his two young daughters when he's not pursuing the profession he loves - making by hand desks, tables, benches and other wood pieces that display their grain patterns and colors in fine, heirloom fashion.
Now his life is even better.
Klassen has been chosen one of just seven furniture makers to display their work at the annual Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., in late April. A total of 120 people were selected to show their wares, ranging from jewelry and furniture to ceramics and fiber pieces.
Thousands apply for the privilege to participate in the four-day show, which attracts hordes of people, including experienced collectors with deep pockets. A preview night for high-rollers will be hosted by Martha Stewart.
"It's extremely prestigious," Klassen said. "I thought I'd have gray hair before I got an invitation like this."
When I met Klassen, there was nary a gray hair visible on him. That's not surprising, given that he's just 31. Perhaps more surprising is that the three Smithsonian judges chose a furniture maker so new to the field.
Klassen finished his formal schooling in woodworking, furniture design and cabinetmaking just six years ago, and opened his Lynden studio five years ago.
The spark of the idea to become a furniture maker occurred when Klassen was driving a forklift at Lynden Door Inc. and would take scrap wood home to make furniture for his family. Those early pieces were amateurish, but he realized he wanted to spend his life working with his hands.
With support from his wife, Barbara, Klassen attended the highly regarded woodworking program at College of the Redwoods, in Fort Bragg, Calif., and then studied at the Capellagården School of Craft & Design in Sweden.
"When you really love something, the learning can happen really fast," he said.
Klassen grew up on a fruit farm in California and moved to the Northwest to attend Columbia Bible College in Abbotsford, B.C. That's where he met his wife. He chose not to pursue a theological desk job and settled in Lynden because his wife's family lives just north of the border.
Klassen obtains most of the material for his furniture from small regional mills. He typically uses slabs of Northwest wood - cedar, cherry, maple, madrone, walnut, among others - but sometimes uses exotic material, such as wenge, a dark wood from Africa.
He doesn't stain his creations. Instead, he uses clear finishes, rubbing the furniture by hand so the grain and colors shine.
He's been working for several months on pieces he plans to show in Washington, D.C., including a dining table, coffee table, mirror, desk, bench and a light fixture. Some pieces, such as the dining table, represent his new "River Series,' with a curved length of blue glass set in the middle.
Klassen is as much a family man as a furniture maker, so he, his wife, their children and the Smithsonian pieces will all travel to the nation's capital in their large van.
Participating artists pay $2,000 for the privilege to show their work. The show, after all, is a fundraiser for the Smithsonian.
At worst, Klassen will be out $2,000 and the cost of their cross-country trip. At best, he'll sell all of his works on display and secure a trove of lifelong customers. Klassen expects the outcome likely will fall somewhere in the middle.
That, by initial appearances, is how he approaches life: Focus on what's important, family and good work, and don't fret about the edges.
"It's mostly about my work and how I treat people," Klassen said.
SEE GREG KLASSEN'S WORK
To see examples of Greg Klassen's work, go to his website, gregklassen.com.
Klassen exhibits his work at Northwest Woodworkers' Gallery in Seattle. Go to nwwoodgallery.com.
For details about the 2013 Smithsonian Craft Show, go to smithsoniancraftshow.com.
Reach Dean Kahn at 360-715-2291 or firstname.lastname@example.org.