Hands, Tools, Wood

When I walk through Jim Plukas’ shop, the first thing I notice is how clean it is. Hand tools are arranged neatly on benches. Though surrounded by massive machines there’s plenty of space to work. No piles of sawdust litter the corners.

There is no frenzied activity here, just a few men methodically working on the latest project, soft music playing in the background. It’s as if they have all the time they need to create the excellence produced here. Cars roar by on Panorama Trail just a few feet away, but in here is peace and craftsmanship.

This is the home of master woodworker, Jim Plukas.

Jim discovered his love for wood during high school, when he and his father spent four years building a 16-foot sailboat. What he picked up along the way was his father’s work ethic – and an understanding of how to serve others. “With six kids, our house was always a busy place,” he said. “We all became socially skilled just by watching our parents entertain. As my father and I worked on the boat, he passed along the joy of being challenged. These are skills I still use every day.”

That combination illustrates why Jim’s work is so highly valued. He just gets it. “I’ve been around enough to know who the major designers are and how to achieve a certain look. If someone comes to me and says they want a Christopher Peacock kitchen, I know what they’re talking about. Mostly, I just listen to my clients describe their vision, and then I can begin to sketch it out for them.”

It’s hard to pigeonhole what Jim does. He creates anything that involves wood and veneers – furniture, doors, kitchen cabinets, entertainment centers, conference tables, credenzas – and his clients range from a Napa Valley celebrity to the Plaza Hotel in New York. The photographs illustrating this story depict Plukas’s work in a home near Rochester. After 10 years learning under the tutelage of notable New England woodworkers, Jim came back to Rochester to set up his own shop.

He pulls a book off the shelf by noted woodworker Silas Kopf (www.silaskopf.com). I’m stunned by the artistry of inlaid wood, known as marquetry, for which Kopf is known – and even more stunned as Jim tells me how he studied under him. That’s another reason clients turn to Jim. If he can’t do it himself, he knows who can.

“Jim is an essential part of our project team,” said interior designer Heather DeMoras (www.hddcdesign.com). “I so admire his attention to detail. We were working on a Victorian home in Canandaigua, and the owners didn’t want the kitchen to look out of character with the rest of the home. Jim took the time to face the refrigerator in wood so that no hinges would show. Now people walk into their kitchen and ask where the refrigerator is!”

Architect Robert Barbach (www.barbach.com) echoes DeMoras’ sentiments. “I met Jim about 20 years ago when he worked in Massachusetts. I can only describe his work as exquisite. I know few people nationwide with Jim’s expertise in wood finishes and veneers. We do high quality conference rooms and offices for clients, and these have been a showcase of Jim’s capabilities. We’ve been in touch ever since that first project.”

Jim is passing on his long years of experience to the six associates who work for him. “They have the skills, but they sometimes need my design sense when it comes to proportion and scale,” he said. “Plus I’m always on top of our projects, making sure they’re done to perfection. It’s what I expect and what my clients expect.” Jim added that there is no salesperson on board – just him – in direct communication with his clients.

On our tour, Jim showed me the finishing room and pulled two cabinet doors off a rack. “We painted one of these with a brush and the other with a spray, using a special Dutch paint” he explained, “and we want our client to select which they prefer.” It’s this attention to detail that keeps his clients coming back – and, of course, his extensive knowledge of wood. “One of my clients wanted a huge conference table in an exotic wood, and I had to tell him that the trees don’t grow that big. So we found a compromise.”

With his business well established, Jim is now developing a line of signature furniture. His first piece is a grandfather clock of outstanding beauty and simplicity. “Arthur Vitoch of Victoch Interiors came to me for something unique and walked away very pleased. I decided then that this would be my premier piece in the Plukas Collection.”

So I had to ask: Why choose East Rochester when your work serves a worldwide clientele – and appears in noted galleries? “It’s always been home,” Jim replied. “I can ship anything anywhere, and I love the area for it’s slower pace, affordability, and most of all, for the extended family that still lives here.”

Just the answer I would expect.

Learn more at www.plukas.com.

by Joy Underhill

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