McMartin & Beggins furniture makers craft elegance the old-fashioned way
Story by Joe Willey
It is surprising what can be found on the Eastern Shore. Around bends on shaded roads or behind unassuming doors in quiet, small towns lie unexpected treasures. Nestled in Wittman, MD, a tiny town between St. Michaels and Tilghman Island, McMartin & Beggins Furniture Makers is quietly crafting furniture of elegance and distinction.
Both Jim McMartin and Jim Beggins launched their careers as boatbuilders — an auspicious beginning in an area proud of its boatbuilding heritage. McMartin began repairing and restoring antique furniture in 1987, founding the current company in 1998. His association with Beggins began after Beggins and his family sailed into St. Michaels. He and his wife both liked the town and decided to stay for a while. He quickly found McMartin and began working with him. They became business partners five years later.
The two learned important skills from working on boats. Many valuable lessons transferred to both the repair of antique furniture and creating custom-made pieces. “So much of what we do requires hand tools,” said Beggins. “There is a lot of hand-tool work in both boatbuilding and furniture-making.” Even a casual glance at the company’s furniture shows the lessons in craftsmanship.
The quality of the craftsmanship matches the elegance of the custom designs produced by the company. McMartin does almost all of the designing, which Beggins candidly admits his partner has a gift for, along with a certain ease in designing furniture that is hard to rival. Even his sketches give rise to well-proportioned and beautifully designed finished products.
Though their work rests on a foundation from the past, the company is not averse to using modern finishes when appropriate or necessary but always recommends traditional finishes for residential furniture, which allow clients to see the grain of the wood and to feel its warmth. It is a visceral experience not found in modern mass-produced furniture. In their work, the wood and craftsmanship tell a story.
Often, the stories are what drives someone to commission a fine piece of handcrafted furniture. Sometimes even a particular tree holds fond memories. Imagine eating at a table created from a tree that was planted many years ago by a great-great relative. That makes for a wonderful story, even for those who are not great storytellers.
The reasons to commission a piece of fine furniture are as varied as clients, but with each McMartin & Beggins design, a relationship with the maker will be formed, along with the pride that comes from one-of-a-kind elegance.