Building Beautiful Custom and Functional Wood Art—and a Family Legacy
    Jonathan Moran working on a joint inlay.

    Jonathan Moran working on a joint inlay.

    Some people work jobs or own businesses and pursue their artistic interests as hobbies on the side of life. But sometimes artists are talented and driven (and lucky) enough to be able to create a dovetail joint connecting their artistry with a career. Jonathan Moran has been doing just that for over two decades with his woodworking and through Jthn. Moran Woodworks in the Strip District.

    Jonathan became interested in woodworking at a young age while he was working for his father’s antiques business repairing and restoring furniture. Through this, he learned how furniture was constructed and then started building his own designs. His business began 24 years ago making custom furniture, kitchens, and built-ins—and for almost 10 years now, Jthn. Moran Woodworks has been part of the Strip District. “My artistic philosophy is to design and build practical pieces for the home that are interesting to look at as well as being very functional,” he explains.

    Upon first walking into Jthn. Moran Woodworks, one immediately feels almost transported to a distant yet familiar place—think pioneer outpost or a small-town general store from an older time. But there is nothing general about Jthn. Moran Woodworks, and after closer inspection, one quickly notices how seamlessly (and beautifully) the past has been integrated into the here and now.

    Jthn. Moran Woodworks

    There is a diverse and wide variety of goods and woodwork products available at Jthn. Moran Woodworks, from full bars to a range of different tables (live edge dining tables, farm tables, and industrial tables) to beautiful end-grain cutting boards, serving trays, and lazy susans. And it is all one-of-a-kind! Everything Jonathan produces is made by his hands, with the help of dozens of machines that are used to create the final product in his wood shop. His furniture and accessories are made ready to move into place and he even personalizes custom pieces—especially as he gets to know repeat customers’ wants and what they have going on aesthetically at their homes. “So everything is truly unique and there are no twos of anything—he always adds a little extra something special,” says Jonathan’s wife, Mindy, who manages the shop and business.

    Additional notable qualities that make Jonathan’s work stand out from that of other artistic woodworkers are the high level of craftsmanship and the time that is invested to create each piece. “For example, when looking at the details in the creative process of any piece of furniture that is made by Jonathan, one can see the mortise-and-tenon joinery, butterfly inlays, and the incredible unification of the different materials used to create such beautiful works of art,” explains Mindy. By paying such close attention to detail, being extremely particular with the materials chosen, and putting much thought, time, and planning into every piece, Jonathan has mastered the process of making solid heirloom-quality furniture. Depending on the design, size, and detail, projects generally take him weeks to complete.

    Jthn. Moran Woodworks

    Jonathan utilizes locally reclaimed wood from demolished houses, barns, industrial sites, and more—and he often also repurposes salvaged machine bases and metal pieces, incorporating them all into his woodworking designs. “There’s a story behind almost every piece here,” says Mindy. The scarceness and oldness of the wood make Jonathan’s art even more unique. For example, some of the larger furniture pieces have long, very thick sections cut from a single tree. “When this resource of older wood is gone, there will not be any more like it because they don’t allow lumber trees to grow to such large sizes anymore,” she adds.

    As a retail store, Jthn. Moran Woodworks is definitely a place that people go out of their way to visit. Mindy helps assure this by selling other products that both complement and are almost as unique as Jonathan’s handmade woodworks. “My goal is to always keep our store at least 90 percent Jonathan’s work, but it is important to me that we stand apart in every way—so we also stock really unique additional items that nobody can get anywhere else.” In fact, the store is filled with various other small goods, including Pendleton Woolen Mills blankets, Opinel pocket knives from France, candle holders, hand-poured candles, artisan pot holders, and many other one-of-a-kind goods for the home.

    The ultimate business goal for Jonathan and Mindy is to succeed in bringing Pittsburgh to the rest of the world through the art of woodworking, and also to share the passion of being creative through designing and building custom furniture and home accessories. “At Jthn. Moran Woodworks, we strive to reach maximum customer satisfaction through creative genius, ingenuity, and uniqueness,” notes Mindy. But perhaps the strongest impetus that drives them is to have a successful business by doing something that the entire family enjoys while making a living. “Our goal is to have a successful family business that provides products that people want in their homes, and we also want to someday pass this onto our three sons, who actively participate in the business,” says Jonathan.

    When asked about being located in the Strip District, Mindy easily expresses her affection for the neighborhood: “I love the Strip—it’s a great location and one of my favorite spots in Pittsburgh.” Just as the Strip District constantly seems to repurpose and refurbish itself, yet still maintains and connects the past with the present, Jthn. Moran Woodworks appears to fit perfectly into this amalgamated landscape—like two intricately connected corners in one of Jonathan’s pieces. “I think our products go very well here along with all of the old buildings and the whole vibe of the Strip,” Mindy adds.

    Jthn. Moran Woodworks

    Always looking to improve and expand, Jonathan and Mindy are currently in the middle of rebranding their business. Jthn. Moran Woodworks will soon be Moran’s Handcrafted Woodwork and Mercantile. Jonathan’s work can be viewed in the retail store located at 108 19th Street in the Strip. Be sure to follow @morans-
    woodworkingmercantile on Instagram for updates, promotions, and newly listed creations from the wood shop.

    Christopher Cussat is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer who can barely whittle. Read more of his writing at cussat.com.
    Photography by Greger Erickson