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Cowboy Craftsman

The best of the West is reflected in Dave Lookingbill’s handcrafted custom furniture designs.

By Kim Hill | Photography by Christiaan Blok

Carpenters handle wood, while visual artists ignite the senses. Dave Lookingbill has been called a master of both.

Lookingbill designs and builds custom furniture he describes as “New Mexican style, but not copied directly.” His handcrafted tables, chairs, chests and sideboards seem to resonate with home-owners across the country who seek a tangible piece of the West’s rich heritage.

Interior designer Julie Rushing of Prescott, Arizona, puts it this way: “Dave achieves the commendable feat of marrying the ambition of the artist with the exquisite craftsmanship of the carpenter. He transforms humble wood into artifacts that celebrate the chip-carved geometries and joinery techniques indigenous to the Southwest—elevating the utility of furniture to the timelessness of art.”

Born and raised in Idaho, Lookingbill moved to Arizona in the 1970s to work as a farrier at the legendary Castle Hot Springs resort near Wickenburg. While there, he was drawn to the strong, simple lines and emphasis on functionalism of the furniture that was prominent in Wickenburg’s guest ranches and resorts.

2009 Master of the Southwest - Dave Lookingbill

“The guest ranch business dies out in the summer, so for something to do I started making furniture,” Lookingbill remembers. “I certainly couldn’t afford the furniture I saw at the resorts, so I thought I would just make some for myself.”

At that time, Lookingbill had no woodworking experience. In 1988, he took a summer job with a cabinet shop to learn basic skills. He says he is indebted to Rick Tomczyk, owner of Wickenburg Cabinet, for showing him techniques that would have taken years to learn on his own.

Working under the company name Dos Perros, the craftsman designs and builds custom furniture “you would take with you if you move,” he suggests. “I don’t do anything built-in. I leave that to the cabinetmakers.” Lookingbill’s furniture features solid-wood construction with mortise-and-tenon joinery and a five-step hand-finish process. Pieces often are detailed with chip-carved designs that he models after traditional Spanish Colonial patterns.

Lookingbill’s work graces homes from California to Connecticut, thanks partly to the Kay el Bar guest ranch in Wickenburg, where he was head wrangler for 18 years. “The owners had a lot of my furniture there,” he notes. “Guests would see my work and commission pieces for their homes.” When the Kay el Bar was sold in 1996, Lookingbill figured the time was right to make furniture full time.

Over the years, this Master of the Southwest has seen many trends come and go in furniture making. He avoids all of them. “I try to stick with timeless designs that will always be in style,” he explains.

Years ago a client confirmed Lookingbill’s natural inclination for building timeless pieces. The craftsman remembers, “I was delivering furniture to a woman here in Wickenburg, and she said, ‘Oh, the kids are going to fight over this when I’m dead.’ I took that as a great compliment.”

Chip-carving is one of the signature elements of Dave Lookingbill’s furniture. The technique is seen in both pieces. (top left), a pine buffet with hutch standing 8 feet high and 10 feet wide also features mesquite inlays and tile insets by Scottsdale-based artist Joan Baron. Lookingbill used alder to craft a hutch for a home office (top right). Here, he applied intricate carvings and a natural wax finish. (bottom right) This console table features cutouts with copper insets and carved legs. (bottom left) Seven players can enjoy a round of cards at this poker table that Lookingbill made out of alder. Carvings accent the rim of the table as well as its base; the center is tooled leather. The craftsman also fashioned the multi-drawer chest in the alcove.


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