Dave Carty
Dave Carty
LOG HOME LIVING  |  December 1997
Furniture Branches Out

Diane Cole Ross has been creating fine one-of-a-kind rustic pieces in Montana since 1979

Her house is half painted and the side yard is stacked with cut birch, willow and lodgepole pine.  Inside, one bedroom has been converted to an impromptu varnishing room, while another serves as an office, although it’s not one of the places Diane Cole has been spending much time lately.

Today, she’s enroute to her attached garage shop, where she is nearly every waking moment. "It isn’t a garage," she says, winding her way through an ancillary room ankle deep in power tools and sawdust.  "It’s never been a garage. It’s always been a shop."

Diane has been making furniture for about 20 years, since first copying a set of willow chairs she saw in the magazine Mother Earth News.   She still makes plain willow furniture on occasion, but her repertoire has branched out considerably since then.

Diane put herself through Montana State University, supporting two children in the process, in part by building furniture in her spare time.  In 1981, she graduated cum laude with a degree in range science, her "cowgirl" degree.

While she was identifying prairie grasses and studying riparian ecosystems, she was also teaching herself joinery, lacquer application and the art of wood selection.  She has yet to apply for a job as a range scientist; the 9-to-5 life has never suited her.  And perhaps it’s just as well, since Diane’s furniture business is now poised with one wooden table leg in the big time.

Celebrities, many of whom have flooded into the southwestern Montana environs where she lives, are lining up in increasing numbers to buy her work, drawn to her unusual "applied log" chests, dogwood-faced cabinets and pine armoires.  A bed for a famous rock singer has a headboard of laced willow;  another bed has birch legs and an intricate pattern of twigs nailed and glued to the headboard in a Native American mosaic.

With her increasing workload, she’s been tempted to hire someone to help with the more mundane parts of every project, but finances and her philosophy surrounding work have prevented her from doing that so far.

She’s adamant about cutting the wood she uses herself.  "Cutting the wood is the part I love," she says. "I have to get out and go to the river or I lose my sanity.  It’s my prayer time." Years ago when her 21-year-old son, Simon, was killed in a motorcycle accident, Diane went to the river. "It’s what got me through," she says.  "Being able to go to the river when things got too tough."

Over the years, Diane has developed a network of contacts among local ranchers and farmers.  She’s careful about her wood supply, harvesting it selectively so as not to damage its riparian habitat and always allowing trees to remain to replenish the resource.

Diane supports herself entirely with her furniture business, and like everyone else, takes on work from time to time that isn’t always to her liking.  But more and more, the publicity she’s garnered allows her to design and build projects she really enjoys.

Customers with patience and money (Diane’s pieces range from $125 to several thousand dollars for a custom armoire or bed) often allow her free rein to design a dresser or table in any way she sees fit, which suits her fine, since she creates all her furniture without benefit of blueprints or plans.

Diane loves what she does and loves the freelance life.  When she needs to unwind, she gets away from her shop.  A recent vacation took her to a houseboat on Lake Powell.  There, she planned to escape the outside world and merely contemplate the serenity of the horizon.

Of course, it wasn’t long before she missed having a hammer in her hand.

View Diane's rustic creations at http://www.rusticfurniture.net.

Cowboy Cupboard - Diane Ross Four Directions Birch Bed - Diane Ross Chip carved breakfront - Diane Ross Cherry sofa table - Diane Ross

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