11 May 2022
By Kathi Ferguson
The passion that Jim McMartin and Jim Beggins share for their craft is evident. Guided by the classic design of the Federal Period, this unassuming pair creates and restores some of the most beautiful custom-crafted furniture in the country, right here on the Eastern Shore.
When Jim McMartin founded the company, furniture was not his first love. After running a successful boat building and restoration business in Annapolis, Jim and his wife Mary Kay decided to sail to Maine. “Thinking we would continue boat building and living there,” says Jim, “we regrouped after a year and came back to Maryland.” Soon Jim found the work no longer satisfying and decided to focus on restoring antique furniture, honing his woodworking skills on high quality, hand-built items. His decision to focus on traditional period-style furniture ultimately led to moving his shop to St. Michaels in 1988.
Several years later, enter Jim Beggins. Like the McMartins, a 1994 sailing trip brought Jim and his wife Elizabeth from their home in Long Island to St. Michaels. Planning to “stay just a little while”, their plans changed when Jim decided to look for work at one of the area boatyards. “The owner at the local hardware store told me that fella who worked for Jim McMartin had just quit,” says Beggins. From their first handshake, the two developed an instant rapport. Beggins smiles. “If you can build wooden boats, Jim told me, you’ll figure the furniture out. I was hired on the spot.” In 1999, McMartin & Beggins formed a partnership.
Working out of their current location in Wittman, Maryland, the two Jims have never looked back. Each brings unique talents to the business. “One could say I am the academic,” Beggins describes. “I see the end result and how to attain it. Jim McMartin is more creative and intuitive. He comes from an artistic family and has an innate sense for design.”
When it comes to craftsmanship, neither knows the meaning of compromise. Each custom piece of high-quality furniture is hand-built “properly and in the traditional manner,” McMartin says. “Just as it was done 200 years ago during the Federal Period (1790-1830), we’re guided by the Period, using its time-honored methods and techniques to execute our designs.”
It can take up to 400 hours or more to complete a large or intricate piece like a bombe`chest or banquet table. McMartin will produce detailed graphite drawings for each commissioned piece. His drawings are to scale, and he presents them directly to the client. “It’s all about the visual, as each of our clients has very specific needs,” Beggins explains. “Being able to actually see the result takes the guesswork out of the process.”
These artisans rely on local wood as much as possible – walnut, cherry, cypress, catalpa, oak, pine, and others. The pieces are hand-milled and air-dried on site before the initial cut is made. McMartin explains that wood is forever moving, uniformly expanding and contracting across the grain. “Understanding this concept,” he says, “enables a craftsman to compensate for the phenomenon and build a structurally sound piece of furniture.” Often, a project will be made from a client’s own wood; something that provides the craftsmen and the client with a unique sense of satisfaction.
Despite today’s world of instant gratification, classic furniture remains timeless. “This is what it’s all about,” says McMartin, “designing and building something that can be passed on to future generations. Working with wood also has a way of keeping us connected to the natural rhythms of the world around us.”