Craftsman Derek Preble

May 10, 2021

Cabinet and furniture maker Derek Preble elevates the everyday to art.

Text by Bob Curley     Photography by Trent Bell and Nicholas Reichard

Just like old homes, furniture can tell stories.

Derek Preble’s handcrafted pieces aren’t particularly old, but each one has a tale to tell. Some even have names.

Based out of a historic mill in Biddeford, Maine, Preble is a well-known custom-cabinetry craftsman whose work frequently finds a place in luxe coastal homes. Cabinetry is precise, painstaking work, and clients appreciate Preble’s clean lines and use of fine materials.

For Preble the businessman, it’s rewarding work. As an artist, however, he directs his passion toward the hand-hewn tables and benches arrayed in a sun-kissed showroom at the Pepperell Mill.

Much of Preble’s furniture has roots in an Ohio barn that was built in the 1840s. A centuries-old walnut beam that supported the barn’s floor was salvaged when the structure was torn down. In 2017, Preble, who had been making furniture since 1983, got his hands on the storied log. Sometimes he works it into circular and rectangular pieces with Early American or midcentury flair. In other cases, Preble marries smooth boards with live-edge wood to create rustic tables and seating, with inset blocks of mismatched wood elevating some to the level of functional artwork. He says wood reclaimed from barn floors frequently becomes veneer due to decades of wear and tear, but Preble embraces those imperfections.

“The cracks, holes, stains, and infestations are beautiful, and they become a part of the wood that tells a story of vulnerability and stamina that I can’t resist,” he says. “The wood is really old and did a job for a really long time, so I’m honoring it by making it into something that’s not fussy but something that people will feel.”

No two furnishings are alike, and the titles reflect a piece’s individuality and materials as well as the personal history of the craftsman. An E-shaped notch in a table, leftover from a barn crossbeam support, inspired the name Empathy, an example of Preble utilizing flaws in the material as artistic enhancements rather than elements that need to be covered up.

“My [cabinetry] has never been able to communicate emotion like that of a painting or a sculpture,” says Preble. The furniture, on the other hand, is deeply personal—so much so that he gives away some pieces to friends and holds onto others, waiting to find just the right home.

“I know where some of these belong, and they will go there someday,” he says.

Derek Preble, Biddeford, Maine, derekpreble.com