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Two chance events in the lives of two people—William Hoehne and Susan Clark—led them down a new pathway and resulted in the unique partnership that became Hoehne Clark Fine Furniture & Design..

William Hoehne was always a woodworker, from childhood days in the shop in his father's basement, to high school where he won a Golden Hammer award for a hutch cabinet he built. After graduation Bill worked for innovative architect and furniture maker George Nakashima for three years, and later branched out into carpentry and home restoration. Then in 1998 a life-changing event occurred: a driver ran a stop sign and hit Bill's car, leaving him with a fractured sternum and a directive from his doctors forbidding him to swing a hammer or do any lifting—essentially his entire occupation at the time.

That's when partner Susan Clark stepped in. “I said to Bill, ‘Let's go back to doing what you love - making furniture.’ That's how we started.” In the beginning they made traditional pieces, until the day of Sue's epiphany. One morning they went to buy wood at a store that featured a selection of exotic, non-local wood. “The best way I can describe it,” Sue remembers, “is to say that at that moment my life went from black-and-white to color. Shapes and designs that were less traditional just started coming into my head.”

Susan has no formal training in art. “Bill and I choose the wood for our pieces together. But I can't draw and my sketching isn't much better, so I draw in the air with my hands. Bill has to translate my ‘air drawings’ which isn't always easy. It's like we speak two different languages, and it can be frustrating for both of us.” But somehow it works, and the result is exquisitely crafted furniture as unique and beautiful as the names of the exotic woods William and Susan favor: cocobolo, Tasmanian blackwood, yellowheart, bubinga.

On a recent walk near their gallery, Bill commented, “See that tree? It will be so beautiful inside,” pointing out how the trunk had twisted in an unusual way. An avid birdwatcher and gardener, if Bill encounters a problem while making a piece, he heads to the river just over the canal bridge from their workshop in Phillips Mill near New Hope. As he relaxes and watches the birds, the solution to his problem often comes to him.

Sue works in a different way. “When I'm at the shop and Bill is working, I'll sometimes play with cut-off pieces of wood I find lying around, kind of like playing with Legos or Lincoln logs and, voila! there's a mini coffee table, or a sculpture, or an idea. Then it's up to Bill to figure out how to make it.”

For commissioned pieces, Bill and Sue like to visit the client's home.“We can see what furniture they have, what colors they prefer, and how and where the piece is going to be used,” said Bill. “Because they're in their own homes, clients often reveal something about what they want or need that might not have occurred to them while in the gallery.”

The partners have designer Phillip Lloyd Powell, whom they met late in his life, to thank for sharing advice about furniture making. “He was so creative,”Sue recalls. “He helped Bill to understand that you don't always know how a piece will end up looking, even if you think you do know. He used to tell us ‘There are no mistakes.’” That viewpoint has helped on occasions when they think a piece might be ruined. They have learned to look at it differently, to incorporate the mistake or maybe add something to it.

Stop by the Hoehne Clark gallery in Doylestown and take a look at their unique designs. If you're lucky, you might meet the craftsman who can see through trees and the designer who draws in the air.