Cris Bifaro’s reverence for fine craftsmanship is rivaled only by his drive. He says he and longtime employee/collaborator Scott Meek “are constantly chasing the ideal balance between the artistic and the functional in our products.”
Bifaro founded his artisan cabinetry and furniture shop Cris Bifaro Woodworks in West Asheville in 2004. “When I first arrived in Asheville, I saw that entrepreneur craftsmen were respected and encouraged,” he says. “I connected with an important mentor, woodworker and author Andy Rae, who helped me see a way forward doing this work and feeling confident planting roots here. Now Asheville is a woodworking center, attracting masters like [chairmaker] Brian Boggs and [woodturner] David Ellsworth, for example.”
With his newest endeavor, Lavoro Lighting, Bifaro sells pieces online and through the gallery at Foundation Woodworks in the River Arts District; he hopes to expand soon into local fine-furnishings shops. Bifaro and Meek create sculptural custom lighting pieces using white oak, walnut, and concrete. Since he and Meek are both “wood-obsessed,” as Bifaro says, lighting work is a natural, exciting outlet (pun intended).
“It was a good transition for us. We make our products using only the highest quality material, and offer them to designers and homeowners, who we’re already closely connected to because of the cabinetry company,” he explains. “Lighting’s also fun because there are so many design opportunities that present themselves, so many creative directions we can go in.”
This includes architectural, organically influenced pendants whose shapes are strikingly simple, yet beautifully compatible with so many interiors. These pieces glorify the materials and the process. “It might surprise some that in order to produce pieces this streamlined, it requires rigorous attention to detail,” says Bifaro, who has a science degree. “Lavoro has become a place where Scott and I can make what we imagine, and hopefully, someone likes it.”
Meek agrees that Lavoro “has really felt like a natural extension of each of our years of woodworking, even though not all of the lights are made of wood. … There’s something really special about crafting things for someone’s home, whether it’s kitchen cabinets, cutting boards, lights, or whatever. These are items they will interact with daily for many years.” He emphasizes the premier quality of what he gets to make with Bifaro; anything less, he says, he “wouldn’t want to work on.”
Bifaro’s roots are Italian, and fittingly, “lavoro” is the Italian word for “work.” For this maker, few things are as important as “getting as close to the material itself as possible. The form should be as simple as I can get it so it elegantly holds the space it inhabits,” he explains.
Lavoro Lighting, in business three years, “allows me to branch out beyond the cabinet world, and the creative element is particularly engaging, since I enjoy painting and have taken up making ceramic work recently too,” says Bifaro. He involves clients in every step of his process: design, building, finishing, and installation. Bifaro believes it’s vital to stay excited about the medium one works in.
“My approach to life is, don’t waste time building things that aren’t really exciting to you, and that you’re not really proud to put out into the world.”
Lavoro Lighting, Asheville. Work is sold online (www.lavorolighting.com) and through the gallery at Foundation Woodworks, 17 Foundy St., River Arts District, Asheville (www.foundationwoodworks.com). Call 828-776-2453 for more information.