615 Simons Rd
Monroe, Washington 98272
It’s about the family that sits around the dining room table for conversation and breaking bread. It’s about the community and the friendships made in the process. For Allan and Frances Peterson, what they do behind the 100-year-old storefront of their Milkwood storefront on Monroe’s Main Street was never about the furniture.
The artist couple works as a team, she as a visual artist, he as a master craftsman of wood. They finish each other’s sentences, complement each other’s talents, and harmoniously create a world for themselves that gives them each space to create. Having found their stride, they are booked out with orders months in advance, with customers described as the “average Joe” to tech executives and retirees.
Behind the small storefront is the couple’s workshop. Live edge slabs of walnut, oak and Monkeypod lean up against the walls. Two slabs are joined together with space between them, their ends unevenly matched, lying on the floor. Soon the two will become a table top, commissioned by a couple who wants a large table for their family to gather around.
Allan eschews the modern method of pouring epoxy between live edge slabs to create the impression of a river. He’ll fit glass between the edges.
“Nature has done such a beautiful job of putting this together and then man comes along and shoves a bunch of plastic in it. It’s kind of a hard concept for me to grasp,” Allan said, adding they follow the philosophy of past furniture maker George Nakashima. “It’s not something that’s supposed to be fashionable. We need to give that tree a second life, with the respect it deserves.
“That 4x6 started as a tree. Someone turned it into a header to provide protection in a home. Now, instead of winding up in a dump pile, it’s becoming a table.
“The pile of walnut down there… that’s going to be a round dining table. The customer wants its gouges filled with pewter,” he added. Pewter is timeless, asserts Allan; It will honor the tree. He also practices the art of Shou Sugi Ban, the Japanese method of burning and preserving the wood in the process.
In all of their pieces, you’ll see finely detailed joinery, the heart behind the chosen finish, the choice to reveal the natural edges of wood in honor of its prior life as a growing, living tree. Sometimes the challenge lies in combining the two — the choice of finish and the prior life.
“We were commissioned to design and create furniture for a modern French château. They asked for six submissions,” Allan said while Frances laid out her designs on the worktable in front of him. “It was a challenge to combine them! They wanted furniture that represents artwork but is also functional, beautiful furniture.”
The customer ultimately bought all the designs. Allan will be using Shou Sugi to create darker elements and live edges combined for French château-inspired, modern works of art.
Monroe resident Nina Allendar is a devoted customer. “Discovering Milkwood has been such a treat,” she said. “I never tire of the furniture and art pieces I have; When I look at them it is like the first time all over again. They bring so much style and personality to the spaces they inhabit. Birthed of truly unique and rare artisans — I feel blessed!”
Such happy customers is keeping the couple’s business booming. Monroe is seeing an influx of retirees and tech executives, some working from home, repurposing dining rooms into offices. “It’s not a pottery barn scenario,” Allan noted. They want works of art.
And in making these pieces, the couple is making friends. Customers stop in just to say hello, sometimes with a treat from Sky Valley Bakery next door.
“When people go out of their way to say ‘Hi,’ in a world that’s so busy,” he said, “and we are so isolated from each other… when they show up with a jar of blackberry jam….”
“That they made!” Frances adds. “It doesn’t get better!”
“It doesn’t,” he agreed.
Allan’s conversation moved away from the art he and his wife share to his wife’s own creations. “Her paintings tell a story. Start placing your mind in that scene,” he said. They are full of vibrant colors next to the natural wood tones of the furniture they share space with — like colorful South American parrots in trees. Frances’ work gravitates toward 1960s-era imagery, even incorporating the bouffant do’s that adorn her custom pillows featured in Seattle Magazine into chandelier forms that straddle the line of art and utility — “our next big innovation,” he says — “fun and crazy” she says.
The artists like to showcase the complimentary work of other artists, including drawer pulls from a local blacksmith. Frances’ displays some of her custom-made dresses and tops, crafted from a customer’s favorite t-shirt collection. Every one is bright, energetic and eclectic like herself.
“I love to work on home decor and different accessories,” she said. She also teaches art at Gage Academy of Art in Seattle. The Petersons’ combined talents formed the foundation of their work together. They first began by creating dual-purpose furniture that might be faced in a colorful painting by Frances but opened up for a utilitarian purpose.
The custom-order furniture business came out of the blue. The Petersons live in Index and came upon their Monroe storefront while visiting downtown. They filled it with the furniture Allan had been producing out of inspiration and love for carpentry and craftsmanship.
“We opened up the store full of furniture that Allan had made but people came and said ‘that’s pretty cool, but can you do this?’,” Frances said.
And they could. A year ago the Petersons showcased a solid wood ash and walnut credenza, complete with dovetails and bowties, the second in The Monroe Series, “a style we’ve named for the city that has been so good to us.”
“I cannot say enough about Monroe,” Allan said. “I will brag about Monroe.”
Truth be told, Monroe is bragging about them.
Subscribe to our newsletter to get the freshest stories, videos, and travel ideas from our corner of the PNW.Sign Me Up