At an age when most kids were still trying to make simple cabins out of Lincoln Logs, carpenter and furniture designer Jake Blok was learning how to measure and cut real wood.
He grew up in a family of carpenters, and became acquainted early with the ins and outs of creating furniture through his father, who did it as a hobby. When he entered high school, he took a woodshop class and began to truly hone his craft.
"My uncle was a teacher at school, so we left here about 4:30 in the morning and went to work in the shop for a few hours before school," says Blok, who is from Kalamazoo but graduated high school in Grand Rapids.
He chose to attend the Kendall College of Art and Design, where he majored in furniture design and began building his business. He received several mentions and awards for his work, including the American Society of Furniture Designers' 2011 Student Design Challenge, where he received first place. It was at Kendall where Blok says he was able to think outside the box of basic design.
"I love to draw. I love to create. I love the creative part of it. That was the part that I was missing before I went there," he says of his learning experience. "I was doing a pretty simple generic Shaker design. After I went to Kendall I learned to think outside the box and create my own artwork."
Blok's workshop is conveniently located in his parent's backyard, just steps away from his showroom, which is in their living room. The space is filled with sawdust, woodcuts, and in-the-works projects. Currently, he's in the middle of creating a table for a customer from an old walnut tree that grew in the yard of their childhood home. It's a way to make a memory that not many might think of, says Blok.
"It's got really gorgeous grain to it. It's phenomenal wood, and she has this story - where it comes from her as a child. This was her family farm that they grew up on - her father and now her brother is taking it over," he says. "And now she can have a table of it. You can't get that if you go to the store. This table that I'm building will last for generations."
His furniture has sloping curves, smooth finishes and comes in every shade from caramel to chocolate. He makes it a point to get as much of his wood as he can from local sources - or whatever happens to catch his eye. Words like "functionality," "spatial," and "sculptural" have been used to describe his pieces. He's made chairs, tables, bookcases, cabinets, cutting boards - even pipes - and they're all designed and made by Blok.
"I love the challenge. Every piece of wood is different. I love the smell of wood, I love putting things together," says Blok. "Figuring out how it's all going to fit together like a puzzle."
Last year, Blok took home "Best In Wood" at the KIA Art Fair. He will also be present this year, and will be bringing a newly designed rocking chair and coffee table, as well as several of his other works. Though Blok's work carries a signature style and level of craftsmanship, he can never put a finger on what will come next.
"I like to think of my work as an evolution," says Blok. Every piece goes into the next, and every piece I do evolves and every design is informed by the last one. Always changing."