Wayne Towle: The Wizard of Woodwork Refinishing and Restoration
Text by Kaitlin Madden
Wayne Towle isn’t what you’d call a jack-of-all-trades, but within the niche where he’s carved out a thirty-year career, the breadth of his expertise is boundless. The Needham-based craftsman specializes in creating custom wood finishes for anything and everything. He’s refinished antique car and boat parts, a horse carriage, and even a room from the home of Sir Isaac Newton that was relocated from London to the campus of Babson College.
Creating Bespoke Millwork, Cabinetry, Flooring, and Furniture
As Towle puts it: “If it’s wood, we finish it.” While the scope of his skills is wide, the core of his business is more practical, if no less bespoke. Towle is best known in the region for the one-of-a-kind shades he creates for millwork, cabinetry, flooring, and furniture. He most often works with designers and architects to achieve the perfect sheen for a balustrade in a renovated Victorian, for example, or with a homeowner to add patina to the floors of a new construction.
What sets Towle apart is the unconventional but insightful approach he takes to his finishes. Each one is created on a project-by-project basis, through a multi-step process that pushes industry standards. “A lot of our colors aren’t naturally ones you’d see on wood,” he says. “Say it’s a project in a home with traditional bones and a more contemporary interior. We’ll immediately discount the traditional wood tones and start playing with cooler colors like grays, black, white, blue, and green. We just did a room with a wooden handrail that we finished in purple stain. The stain itself was purple but at the same time it was completely translucent, so the effect was subtle and modern.”
Woodwork and Furniture Refinishing in Unique Finishes
Color is just one angle from which he contemplates each project. “There are a lot of woodshops out there that have standard colors and sheens, but we go beyond that. We play with color, texture, sheen, and light refraction,” he explains. “Maybe the client wants a subdued room with an accent piece that’s high-gloss, so we’ll buff the piece so the sheen is exceptionally high.”
Creating such specific finishes requires a host of materials. Among the agents you’ll find in his workshop: shellac, French polish, varnish, oils, waxes, polyester and lacquer. “It really runs the gamut,” he says.
Starting with the Wood
The wood itself also plays a role, since certain varieties are more easily manipulated. Those with strong, monochromatic colors and a closed grain don’t take well to dramatic alterations. “If you wanted something super iridescent and deep in a red-brown color, for example, cherry is going to be phenomenal, but at the same time it won’t be great for a contemporary setting,” Towle says.
Working with Clients
Perhaps the most important part of the design process, however, is his clients. “Interface is very important between us and the designer, homeowner, or architect, because everybody sees color differently. We always start with a meeting and try to draw out what that they’re looking for,” Towle says. For clients with a finite idea of the results they’re after, the brainstorming process is quick and straightforward. But other times the project starts more open-ended. “Some people just don’t know what they’re looking for, but they always know it when they see it,” says Towle. It’s precisely this well-honed ability to concoct what his clients are looking for, as specific or ambiguous as it may be, that’s kept him in business for three decades.