Author Archives: Jessica Vagnier

Polaris – Throwback to the Future

Polaris Logo

Artisan Millshop recently completed an installation of custom designed furniture and decorative pieces in the Polaris Restaurant in Atlanta.  The Johnson Studio, based out of Atlanta, Georgia, is an architecture and design studio that specializes in creating restaurants that not only cater to the chefs and staff but also the guests who ultimately are the reason to open a restaurant in the first place.  Artisan Millshop initially worked with The Johnson Studio on the Restaurant R’evolution project in New Orleans beginning in 2010 and since then, our relationship has flourished.  We share a mutual appreciation for practicality of design, desire to see long-term satisfaction for our clients and finding the beauty and precision in the details.  When we first heard about the renovation of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta on Peachtree Street we were excited and intrigued.  We were excited to be a part of a renovation of an Atlanta institution and landmark that had been closed for over 10 years and intrigued because we knew the logistical challenges we would face with regard to just getting the various elements into the space.  Who doesn’t like to overcome a challenge?  After months of design discussion, shop drawings and creating in the shop, we were finally ready to deliver to Polaris, the highly anticipated reopening restaurant/lounge.

Penske Truck

 To begin, we loaded up a Penske truck, with the help of Cooper, Julian, Claire and some other heavy lifters.  We set out on the road to Atlanta, mentally prepared for about a 7 hour drive.  Shortly after we began our drive, we realized there is a governor on the truck that keeps us at a cool 70 mph and under.  That wasn’t a big deal, but the chemical spill that caused a 2 hour reroute WAS a big deal.  Still, we’re on a mission, so we bought another bag of beef jerky and continued our journey.  We arrived in Atlanta around 11:30pm and enjoyed a late dinner with our friends, Randy and Puzio, at Six Feet Under Pub and Fishhouse that overlooks downtown Atlanta.  The next morning, on our drive to the Hyatt, we ran smack into…. Guess what?  A parade!  After some tricky maneuvering around blocked off streets, with which we are very familiar coming from New Orleans, home of Mardi Gras, we made it to the hotel.









Hyatt Atlanta Lobby









Hyatt Glass Elevator

Every piece had to go from the loading dock to the freight elevator which went ½ a floor- no kidding.  Then, from that level, down two corridors to a passenger elevator and up to Polaris.

Two of my personal favorite pieces, the communal tables, had to be assembled in place.  The walnut bases were separate from the table tops, which were separate from the bronze inlays.

Walnut FlitchesWalnut Communal Table in Process        IMG_0506










Bronze Inlay







It was tricky and taxing to get the elements up to Polaris, but once we were up, with tools, some good music and the best view in the city, we were ready to build!  For those familiar with Polaris, you know that one of the cool features about it is that it rotates 360° (the image below is the reflection of Polaris in a neighboring high rise).  Fortunately, we weren’t rotating during our installation, for the most part.  In the rare cases that we were rotating, we had to be aware of where we placed tools because if not set in the right spot, it could be clear on the other side of the lounge when we next reached for said tool.  It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was good for a chuckle!

Polaris Reflection

Another piece that was assembled on site is the screen with cerused oak mounted on iron.

Cerused Oak Decorative Screen



Puzio’s Iron Studio provided the screen and Artisan Millshop subsequently applied the cerused quarter sawn white oak panels. Cerusing is a multi-step method of creating a finish that is textured and in this case, contrasting.  First, a wire brush is used to open the pores and grains of the wood.  Next, the oak is stained using dye. Then, shellac is brushed on, followed by edge filler for the cerusing effect.  Finally, polyurethane is applied as a top coat and sealant. This screen certainly helped in staying with the retro feel of the design.

Quarter Sawn Cerused White OakCerused Quarter Sawn White Oak








Another piece that we made was a cocktail table with zebrawood veneer table top on a three-legged cantilevered table base.  It’s currently at the entrance to the lounge, so you see it as soon as the elevator doors open.

Zebrawood Cocktail Table

Polaris_NightInterior6In addition, we manufactured four credenzas with leather-wrapped doors, veneered mahogany drawers and sides and black granite top.  These stunning pieces have a balance of smooth, hard, shiny and sharp textures.



We provided several black walnut tables of various sizes.  Each table was hand-scraped using a card scraper, with hand-beveled edges and hand-rubbed finish.  Here are two of the types of tables we delivered to the space.


The team at the Hyatt was a pleasure to work with as well as the design team with The Johnson Studio.   We loved being a part of project that required and featured intense attention to detail.  We just wish Polaris was closer so we can cozy up to one of the several beautiful features that work together to make up such a picturesque lounge!Polaris_NightInterior5

Tell us what you think:

Have you used any of the above mentioned techniques in a project (big or small) that you’ve worked on?

Would you consider incorporating some of the methods we used to create the finished looks we fabricated?

What are you working on now?

Custom Entry Door: This is how we do it

Custom entry door

Justin Richards attaching the craftsman style ledge to custom entry door

We recently completed a small custom entry door project for a home being renovated near the shop.  The style and materials aren’t important for this exploration.  I’d like to instead spend this post exploring the techniques employed for this door’s construction and door construction in general.

For years, we’ve built doors using various techniques and methods.  We’ve built stain grade cypress door slabs in groups of 50 with varying widths and heights, single replication slabs to be retrofit into existing entryways, interior door slabs only 1” thick, swinging-wall torsion box slabs 4” thick and 12’ 0” tall, and multiple pairs of pocket doors 111” wide.  When a door leaves our shop it’s with the understanding that it will be functional, sturdy and in service for generations.

With that goal always in mind, we choose construction methods that are best suited to the frequency of use, style and location of installation.  Of course our techniques, methods, tools and skill have improved over the years.

There have been countless studies done discussing the viability and longevity of doweled doors, doors with integrated tenons, floating tenons, even doors held together with biscuits.  We use floating tenons.  My favorite machine in the shop is our Maka – by far.  It is cleaner, faster, more predictable and precise than any other machine I’ve ever used to create a mortise.  And, yes, I started out making them with a combination square, paddle bit, chisel and crossed fingers.

Maka Knives

Maka Knives

Door building techniques for us evolved from hand cut tenons to router-made mortises; doors assembled completely then drilled and dowelled; doors built using a Knapp slot mortiser and the tenoner; to our present and favorite method.

Maka Mortising Head

Maka Mortising Head

We prefer floating tenons because the Maka is so precise that we are able to create perfectly located mortises in the rails and stiles.  The lonesome but beautiful belt driven, single end Poitras tenoner sits there dusty and unused (sometimes these days I roll it out just to hear it run).  It doesn’t make much sense to set up a custom cope set and adjust the whole thing to make a one-off door.  Even if it were a number of door slabs, cutting the cope and stick on the shaper and mortising with the Maka is faster, more precise and I believe, superior.

Maka Clamp

Maka Clamp

Does anyone else use a mortiser for end grain mortises on rails?  What are your opinions on the subject?

Custom Entry Door

Cooper holding custom entry door


I still clearly remember the first time I intentionally sat down to design something I’d later build. It was summertime, and I was sitting at my grandparent’s kitchen table. I was about 10 years old.

For some reason, and I think it might be that it just came to me as I drew, the design became a rickshaw. Not just any rickshaw, mind you, but the one meant to carry my grandma under its canvas cover and upon its upholstered seat — behind the little Honda motorcycle that my grandpa borrowed for me each summer from his best friend, Feise.

My dad was a civil engineer, and my mom, a potter. We had recently moved away, from Colorado to Louisiana. It was no punishment being sent back to Colorado for parts of each summer after the move; I loved my grandparents’ house. But more to the point, I loved my grandpa’s workshop.

The old building had been his brother’s shop, used to maintain Mountain Bell phone system service trucks.  It was a mixed-use building separate from the house;“down below,” my grandma called it.  It was home to my grandma’s real estate office, my mother’s old pottery studio, chickens, huge scary spiders, and at one point our horse, Mr. Teacup.

Most important though were the rows of drawers heavy with tools.  These were huge, deep, wooden drawers, loaded very specifically with like things within. There was a drawer with only hammers of every kind and weight, drawers with only flat head screwdrivers, drawers with unrecognizable things that smelled old and oily— so many drawers.

I remember my favorite thing among all of them though was this special waxed cotton string.  I knew my grandpa had used it in his work somehow.  It was perfect: you can’t find string like that anymore.  If I could, I’d buy it all.  Oddly, my parents would say that I’m wrong. They’d say that my favorite thing was duct tape.

Everything a boy could want was in that space.  And for some reason, they just let me explore it.  I knew every nook, and if I didn’t know what something was, it wouldn’t matter; it was part of a starship or a sword or some siege engine.

I would hammer on things, take things apart and put them back together.  I’d bend scrap metal, drill holes through random pieces of exotic wood.  I remember making so many different Storm Trooper cannons and blaster guns.  Once in a while, and I think he was never far away, my grandpa would come and see what I was up to.  He’d give me a little grief about putting things away, and remind me that we had to head to the mountains soon.  I’d always find a reason to again be back “down below,” and he’d always let me go, rolling his eyes with that wonderfully kind, confused smile.

Upon reflection, I don’t think I had a better friend in my childhood than my grandpa.

That particular day, I headed to the workshop to begin construction of my rickshaw. I was certain that everything needed was there—I had a pretty good running inventory in my head.  I realize now that I counted heavily on my grandmother’s ability to persuade grandpa toward her cause, which worked well if our causes were aligned. In this case, I needed wheels, and grandma needed to be rickshaw-ed.

So, that was it.  I (we) spent a summer building my first design. They took me to a swap meet where we found wheels that needed an axle.  We built an axle.  We built and then upholstered a seat, worked out a chassis, built a collapsible canopy and created a hitch to attach the whole thing to my motorcycle.

I swear that to this day, the most flattering and gratifying thing I’ve ever experienced was my grandmother climbing aboard that rickshaw.  She trusted me, trusted this thing that I created in my head, this thing we made real in that workshop over that summer.

Later that year, my grandparents came down south to visit and brought my rickshaw.  Now without a borrowed motorcycle, I sat down to design again, and this time it would be pulled by our Rottweiler Max, with me in tow.

They let me do it, and so it began.


John at Shop Layout Table


Brand Logo


A blog, to us, is like a journal capturing thoughts and experiences that can be cathartic, relatable, funny and sometimes inspiring.  We are inspired by everything from a good rye whiskey, past and present architecture to perfectly boiled crawfish and watching others hone their craft- no matter what it is.  When we created our website, we aimed to reflect who we are as the folks that make up Artisan Millshop, not just what we make.  In our blog, you’ll find various topics, like techniques we or others are using, current woodworking industry tools and news, guest blog features and stories that motivate us to do what we do and encourage us to remain passionate about creating.

If you are interested in contributing as a guest blogger, please email Jessica at