By Ben Wiese | Apr 03, 2023
Fresh out of college, Maček faced a dilemma: he had an education in architecture, but becoming an architect didn't feel quite right.
"I was very inspired by architecture school and considered myself a designer -- but I felt sort of out of touch with the stuff I was drawing in architect's offices," says Maček. "I didn't know how things were built, so I wanted to learn."
Piece by piece, Maček's vision for his future came into focus.
"I was also interested in qualities that are pretty hard to achieve with architecture," he says. "These days, it's mostly gypsum, metal, glass, and concrete, and I was more interested in working with something that had different kinds of qualities to it. So, I learned woodworking, and it felt right."
Under the tutelage of highly regarded furniture maker Louis Fry, Maček quickly ensconced himself in his new sect of design. Nearly 30 years later, it's difficult to quibble with the results.
Since 1995, Maček has produced one-of-a-kind custom designs for his Austin-based business, aptly named Maček Furniture Company. His bespoke creations have been for a wide range of clients in a variety of locales including St. Edwards University in Austin and even businesses in downtown Chicago.
Maček's design and production process can vary depending on the project. A strong believer in the "poetics of construction" -- the cycle of design influencing making and making influencing designing -- Maček continues to design as he constructs, and the construction of the project informs the designs.
"You're still designing all the way through the process," he says. "In woodworking, you have to draw everything ahead of time. But even so, you're still making lots of small decisions along the way."
The scope of Maček's work is as vast as the range of his clientele. From altar, pulpit, and communion railings for a Presbyterian church, to stereo consoles and dining room tables for home residences, and to porch swings for architectural firms, Maček has found a niche in the custom, one-of-one design world.
But like many creatives, Maček flirted with switching up what he had come to find his greatest success through. In his case, the possibility of launching his own furniture line was an opportunity that really caught his eye.
"I had really strongly considered doing small-scale manufacturing," he says. "I really gave it a shot for a little while. I launched product lines in 2005 and 2006 for the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, but being a manufacturer -- even on a small scale -- is a much different business model."
He continues, "You have to continually come up with new products and continually stay in touch with designers and interior designers and retailers. I just didn't have the funding for that, and the custom jobs just kept coming in. It's pretty hard to make made-in-America furniture that can be sold at any retail price."
Maček currently operates out of a 20,000-square-foot space that he shares with 20 other artisans who work in wood, metals, ceramics, and paint. At the creative collective called The Splinter Group, Maček and others are able to keep overheads low, building-quality high, and shared creative energy flowing.
"I've never had my own designated space in a building before," he says. "Our situation grew from five people at 5,000 square feet over the years to 20 people at 20,000 square feet. It's a great way of having a quality building at an affordable price, and it's a great environment. We look out for each other, and we can share our design ideas with one another. I think there is such a thing as creative energy that grows when you're around people that are also excited about what they're doing. And if you need help lifting this massive object you created, there are people around."
In his shop, Maček has three team members and an array of tools including a jointer, a planer, a table saw, and a chop saw, as well as hand plains, chisels, and hand saws. The majority of Maček's materials are American hardwoods that can be found at lumber yards, but he is fond of using local woods sourced from Harvest Lumber and Berdoll Sawmill in Austin.
Challenges: For Maček, the flip side of one-of-a-kind designs is the time commitment that comes with each project -- including crafting single-use tooling to meet hyper-specific needs.
"Custom takes time. The challenge generally with custom is that every piece isn't only designed from scratch, it's built from scratch, and it takes longer to make," he says. "There aren't existing jigs or templates. You're going to build those jigs, and you may never use them again. I have a small collection of oversized jigs that I'm reluctant to throw away because they took so much time to make, and yet, unless that same issue comes up again, I may never use these jigs again."
Opportunities: From art installations to cabinet installations, so long as Maček continues as a designer and craftsman of custom wood furniture, every new job holds the uncommon and fulfilling opportunity of bringing complex ideas to life.
"Every project is its own. Every project is something to look forward to. And every project is a chance to develop some new ideas," he says. "People have asked me what my favorite piece is that I've made, and I really can't answer that; every piece has certain sets of ideas that I really like. The great benefit of custom is the variety. Change is a constant, and that there's always something new on the horizon that you've never worked with before. Woodworking is really a tremendous satisfaction. To draft something, and make it real, is a very gratifying way of spending your time."
Needs: Perfectly in line with the premium on time commitment is the need for supreme levels of flexibility, particularly when it comes to designing and revising in order to achieve a client's goals.
"When I was younger, as a self-employed artisan, it took me a while to realize that I had to be flexible," he says. "Part of the nature of custom is that each process has to be somewhat flexible. It's always a conversation between both sides: there's some give and take. My ideas aren't perfect, and I need to refine them and get that feedback. The client or designer also needs to be able to discuss and develop these things. Rarely does a design hatch fully formed. It's much more of a discussion and debate, and I now like that process."