photograph by Yvonne Albinowski
The creative family behind L. Post Rustics
In most family businesses, the lines are clear from the outset. A patriarch or matriarch hatches a plan, succeeds, and then inevitably brings the children into the line of work. John D. Rockefeller Jr. followed his old man into oil and finance. The New York Times gets handed down from Sulzberger to Sulzberger.
Not so the Posts of Au Sable Forks. Larry Post literally fell into his business, by way of what could have been a tragic accident. In April of 2003, he took a nasty tumble and hit his head while skiing at Whiteface. A slow-bleeding subdural hematoma caused a stroke that nearly killed him and wiped out much of his short-term memory. He couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t remember things, couldn’t even recite the alphabet. “It was like being with somebody with Alzheimer’s,” recalls his wife, Joann.
Unable to perform his job at Georgia Pacific in Plattsburgh, the only alternative to sitting on the couch all day was an old hobby, woodworking. “I didn’t have anything else to do,” he says, “so I’d just go off to my workshop.”
He would make something, joining two boards together, for instance, then forget how he did it. So he’d write notes to himself to remind him of procedures and make small mockups of how things he was working on should look. Little by little, his memory improved, and eventually multiple repetitions made much of the work second nature. He started building guideboats with the help of his son, Ryan, who inherited his dad’s love of woodworking. By the summer of 2004, Larry thought he might be able to sell them. George Jaques, a longtime rustic furniture maker in Keene Valley, agreed to help. It wasn’t long before they were out the door of Jaques’s shop—and Post was off on a new career path.
Over the next few years, he built a rustic furniture business that expanded the way it started—almost by accident. Larry’s business was growing so fast that in 2007, Joann quit her job at Champlain Valley Physician’s Hospital in Plattsburgh to help him with it. A nurse by training but an artist at heart, Joann started adding her paintings and keen design eye to Larry’s furnishings, which expanded from clocks to tables to cabinets to entire rooms and luxury homes.
By 2010, L. Post Rustics was winning awards at regional and national rustic furniture shows. And adding well-connected employees. Their daughter Jillian ditched her budding career in forestry to create elaborate, biologically correct carvings that meshed seamlessly with Larry and Joann’s wares.
Ryan was the last to formally join, in 2011, bringing not only his woodworking skills but his tech training; he’s incorporated computers into the Posts’ design and drafting process.
There was no plan—and still isn’t. And yet L. Post Rustics is thriving. Working on the grounds of an old Atlas missile site just behind their home in Au Sable Forks, the Posts produce fully functional furnishings that double as works of art, serving a market of upscale clients throughout the Adirondacks and around the world. One of their clients is Jack Ma, the Chinese tech tycoon who owns substantial property in the Adirondacks. Top interior designers such as Beverly Hills–area Gail Claridge rely on the Posts, and the family just completed major work at The Point resort on Upper Saranac Lake.
Larry and Joann converted the bottom portion of their home on Route 9N, an old Adirondack inn once known as The Maples, into a gallery and showroom. It’s become a stop for high-end shoppers who can see not only the Posts’ one-of-a-kind creations, but those of other Adirondack artisans. This past summer, a couple of heirs to two of America’s best-known commercial dynasties, whom the Posts won’t name publicly, stopped by the gallery to purchase pieces. By the summer, the Posts plan to open a 2,000-square-foot gallery on Saranac Avenue, in Lake Placid.
The Posts love each other, obviously. More important from a business standpoint, they like each other, with everyone getting an equal voice in the creative process. “It’s good working with family, because if it’s a bad idea, they’ll tell you it’s a bad idea,” Jillian says, “and you know it’s not because they don’t like you. It’s because, Oh, that is a bad idea.”
“There’s no power struggle,” says Joann.
“Nobody works for anybody; nobody tells anybody what to do,” adds Larry.
No time clock, no dress code, and no restrictions on the pets, or grandchildren, you can bring to the workplace. “I don’t care if Ryan works midnight shifts,” Joann says. “I don’t care if he takes time to go to his daughter’s events at school. That’s fine. As long as he gets his work done, we don’t care.”
Adds Larry, “It’s a pretty good gig, really.”
Grandfather clocks tell time, and the story of L. Post Rustics. After Larry sold his first boats at George Jaques’s shop, Jaques showed him an old piece. “Will you make me a clock like this?”
Larry said sure.
He took a bunch of photos of the clock, studied them, thought the feet looked easy to make, and started from the bottom up.
He hasn’t stopped. Like most of his early furnishings, his clocks were mostly right angles and straight lines. But Joann changed his style, often adding curves and paintings and ornamental stickwork to designs—as can be seen in the photograph on the facing page, which features Jillian’s carving of an Adirondack fox lazing in a meadow after stuffing himself with the wild strawberries and crabapples depicted in the scene.
“I always did everything very symmetrical,” Larry says. “And when Joann came in, it twisted my head all around. She started saying, ‘Let’s start putting bends and twists in there.’”
“Well,” Joann replies, taking a beat to shoot Larry a wry look, “it worked.”
She gets no argument from Larry. “A lot of the older ones, I’m embarrassed to say they’re mine,” he says. But from time to time, clients will still request versions of his early, simpler designs. “Not everyone wants over the top,” says Joann.
The younger Posts have divvied up tasks in a similar fashion to their parents. Ryan mostly designs and builds the pieces, while Jillian does the ornamentation. A case in point is the mantel above, created for the old Adirondack-Florida School near Rainbow Lake, which is being restored as a private residence. Long-dormant classrooms are being repurposed as bedrooms, and the Posts have been commissioned to build, among other furnishings, fireplace mantels for each of the new sleeping quarters. Ryan and Larry inspected the spaces, measured and designed the structure for the mantels, with Ryan’s computerized drafts making alterations a lot easier than in the old days.
Each room will have a scholastic theme—geography—for instance; Jillian’s mantel carvings will reflect each theme. One carving features a male loon displaying wings, saying, “Hey, ladies,” according to Joann. In the next carving, his mate is on the nest, with snails crawling on the nearby grass.
“Most of our pieces have a story to them,” Larry says, “so it’s not just a piece of furniture.”
NATIVE AMERICAN CABINET
Sometimes, the Posts’ creations stem from found objects. Joann loves antiquing, and stumbled on a portrait of a Native American woman, made using pyrography, or wood burning. Around 1900, when this work is estimated to have been created, “It was all the rage,” Joann says.
Ryan designed the cabinet around the painting, keeping a Native American theme that’s enhanced by the antler handles, which are also found objects. “They’re naturally shed,” Larry says. “People want to know that.”
Like everyone else in the business, Jillian never set out to be a rustic-furniture artisan. Though she minored in art at SUNY–Plattsburgh, she majored in environmental science, and hoped to parlay an interest in botany into a career in forestry. Growing up, she always had art materials, though never wood-carving implements. Too dangerous, says Joann. But as a young adult, Jillian bought herself a cheap set of carving tools, and the hobby soon consumed her.
“You don’t start out good,” she says. “But from the get-go I realized I liked doing it and wanted to get better at it.”
Within a few years, she asked her folks if they thought she might have a place in the business. Not long after, Lake Placid architect Andrew Chary commissioned a piece from her—and soon Jillian was more than pulling her weight. “We get most of our commissions because of her,” Larry says.
Joann is constantly amazed by her daughter’s ability to “find these critters and creatures in the wood. And then she frees them up, and there they are.”
The Posts frequently hear from clients who tell them they just discovered, say, a grasshopper they’d never noticed in a piece commissioned years before.
For inspiration, Jillian has a collection of bugs and plants, found on her walks in the woods, that she stores in jars on a shelf above her workspace. (She wants it made clear the models are dead when she finds them.) It’s one of the secrets to her meticulously detailed work, and stems from her science background, which constantly infuses itself into the work.
Joann checks out one of the fireplace mantels Jillian is carving. “What is that berry?” she asks.
“Maple-leaf viburnum,” Jillian answers. She loves the look of the berries, she says. “Plus, I like the wordplay. Viburnum … burn ’em … fireplace.”
She pauses. “A little botany humor.”
TURTLE AND BEAVER LODGE
The Posts are serious when they say they tell stories with their pieces. One gorgeous sideboard started with the unusual grain on a slab of wood they used as the tabletop. “It really looked like ripples of water,” Joann says.
That sparked an idea from Jillian. “You know when you’re kayaking or canoeing and see turtles, and you can get really close to them before they hop into the water? How about something like that?” And thus a small log lining the back of the watery-grained top becomes a turtle diving board, complete with botanically correct lilies—all complemented by Joann’s exquisite oil painting of a lake vista on the front of the piece.
Maybe the most audacious example is a cabinet, below, standing proudly in the gallery. The top looks like the dome of a beaver lodge, built with wood from an abandoned beaver dam. Beneath is a carved diorama of a beaver diving into a teeming mountain pond, with soft warm light shining down through the surface of the wooden “water.” Flanked by rustic-stick drawers, the scene sits atop a drawer carved in the shape of a knobby log and a wine cabinet framed by pilasters that look like beaver-gnawed poplars.
“It’s all true to nature,” Larry says.
“It’s educational, too,” adds Joann. “A lot of our customers are from cities or metropolitan areas, and they really don’t know anything about the animals of the Adirondacks.”
One prospective buyer thought the beaver was a duck because of the webbed feet.
“If we can give out a little bit of knowledge, the people can understand the flora and fauna that live here,” she says. “These are the critters that are living right alongside you. You need to know about them.”