French Restorer & Furniture Maker, Didier Guenard, Tells His Story of Creativity and Innovation

© Didier Guenard

By Didier Guenard

I was born in Le Creusot in 1965. Following an unruly childhood and a troubled adolescence I was attracted to woodworking, and enrolled in the Lycée Bonaparte in Autun, earning my diploma there in 1981. During those years I got to know the special world of restoring antique furniture, which shook up the ideas about production I’d been taught in school. I spent the next 20 years as a furniture restorer, learning about the ingenuity, sensitivity and beauty of our ancestors’ work, and bringing the objects they made back to life.

I’m an artisan who experiments with new ways of making furniture”

The secret world of the restorer encompasses many skills, much like those of a surgeon, who performs grafts to replace damaged areas and adds new veneer ‘skins’, and the hairdresser, who exercises his knowledge of chemistry to revitalize colors, or the locksmith, who restores worn-out locks … it’s a profession that requires an unusual bag of tricks as well as knowledge and patience, and includes stripping, sanding, ginning, polishing and varnishing wood, and an endless amount of rubbing. It’s also frequently unacknowledged, since its goal is to blend the restoration work with the original piece, the restorer’s work is invisible. 

Didier Guenard’s workshop

I took an evening ceramics class at the School of Fine Arts in Chalon-sur-Saône in 1982, and a drawing class in 1988, which increased my skill in making quick sketches. In 1990 I put on my first outdoor exhibition, presenting a few paintings, some figurative wooden sculptures, and a miniature walnut wardrobe, a masterpiece that combined all my areas of expertise. That year I got married and in 1992 we bought an old stone house in ruins. I spent the next three years restoring it for our growing family.  


The next creative project I tackled was the “Diaposaurus”. It begun in late 1996 and took more than 1000 hours to complete. Starting in 1998 I presented it in a variety of venues such as the Château de Pommard. In the summer of 2003 it was exhibited in Dompierre les-Ormes at the European Gallery of the Forest and Wood, where it was viewed by more than 15,000 enthusiastic visitors. 

“Diaposaurus” by Didier Guenard
“Diaposaurus” by Didier Guenard

I finished the “Diaposaurus”, the creative equivalent of walking the Way of Saint James, in 1998. This multipurpose cabinet of curiosities recounts the legend of the Burgundian dragon known as La Vouivre. Made with fossils I found as a child in the vine yards of the Chalon wine-growing region, and wood I acquired here and there as an adult, this complex and refined piece transcends life on earth. It includes 16 varieties of local and exotic wood, forged steel rods with several different patinas, resin and fiber glass light fixtures, and many fossils, pebbles, sand and glass marbles that make up the cornucopia mosaic.


The different woods used in this piece were turned, sculpted, and include marquetry. It had six drawers, one cylindrical with a sprung ejection mechanism that can be used to store a bottle, and another with a retractable curtain closing. Pushing the button made of boxwood burl makes the midnight blue writing table advance, revealing a half-cylindrical pen holder. Opening the door with the horn handle reveals partitions and two small drawers with varnished interiors. It goes without saying that this piece also contains a secret space … location of which must remain a secret! 

Details of “Diaposaurus” by Didier Guenard

After completing the “Diaposaurus” I took a recreational break and delved into a more Art Brut approach, using old acacia wood fence posts. After reworking them with a drawer-knife, I combined the posts with old slate pool tables and old metal to create a prehistoric effect reminiscent of the “Rahan” comic books I used to enjoy.

My next collection anticipated the total eclipse of the sun in 1999. These pieces include thick steel rims from old wagon wheels that were worn by being driven over paving stones. The soldered arcs act as both a design element and form the structure that sup ports the repurposed stone and wooden components, which are made of old wine barrels.


As a young woodworker my nickname was Diogenes, and I used the phrase “metamorphosis of the barrel” when I presented my work. As I gradually discovered the potential of the curved barrel stave and became an expert in its use I decided to set off on a new adventure and made my first pirate’s trunk, which led me to the “Barque du petit  Béta” and the “Fauteuil à pépé”. I showed my work – the first pieces in the Diogenes, Rahan, and Eclipse collections – in a little chapel in the village of Corlay during the summer of 1999 as part of the “Eclipse” exhibition, and sold almost all of them the same year.

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Encouraged by my success, I built a workshop extension onto my home and became an official furniture maker in 2001. During the same period I took part in the “Trophées du Net 2001”, organized by PME 71 and the Journal de Saône-et-Loire. I also built the “La Vache à  roulette” (“The Cow on Wheels”), a trolley used for ceremonial serving of bread and cheese at the Hostellerie Bourguignonne owned by Didier Denis in Verdun-Sur-Le-Doubs.

The year my workshop opened I also took part in a symposium organized by the Conseil Général de Saône-et-Loire at the European Gallery of the Forest and Wood in Dompierre-les-Ormes, and sculpted the “Fœtus vegetal” from a block of limestone that I worked directly in the block. The following year I sculpted “Le cri de l’Orme” from a piece of elm 2.2 meters high. Many people have ordered farm tables from me. They’re made from re-machined wood from the wine industry; the seats and backs of the chairs that go with them are fashioned from old Burgundian barrels. Curved steel semi-circles are soldered together and reused in the architecture of these pieces, giving new life to ancient wagon wheel rims. 


In 2003 I had the opportunity to try my hand at interior design when the beer cave “La Billebaude” in the town of Givry asked me to create their décor. This is the only time I’ve designed a public space. At the same time I entered “Dionysus” in the European Bacchus competition, and won the “Grand International Creativity Prize 2002/2003” in Florence. This armchair-ship brings together African, Greek, Celtic and Roman influences in a timeless way.

“Dionysus” by Didier Guenard

These transcendent curves lend themselves to pieces influenced by the medieval era was well as other periods and places, such as Africa, Greece, and Burgundy: the cradle of humankind, the first vowel and first letter of the alphabet, the origins of the barrel, the spiral staircase that resembles a Burgundian snail …

I made the “Barrel and Chariot Wheel Collection” between 2002 and 2005 as I dreamed of the days when steel-rimmed wagon wheels rolled on cobblestones as they transported barrels to wine cellars…

“I began to invent a new language with my hands”


In 2006 I had to stop building furniture full time because I became a teacher in the woodworking section of the ESAT in Crissey. There I learned to manage production and accompany students while continuing my creative work on a part-time basis. I alternated between the school, fallow periods, restoration work, and building extensions on our home.

I made this “Reception desk” for my eldest daughter’s Bed and Breakfast in 2013. The façade of the L-shaped desk is the counter; it is ideal for welcoming clients and placing a computer. The piece is entirely made of repurposed solid oak, originally used in wine vats, and barrel staves. The staves were re-machined and glued together to create new shapes that were then assembled with other shapes, resulting in an architectural construction that features a variety of rounded forms.

Reception desk by Didier Guenard

The rounded forms and horizontal surfaces are joined by invisible dovetail joints, the most complex and least apparent technique for assembling wooden furniture. Shelving under the desk provides storage place for documents. There is also a secret  hiding place, a small retractable litter basket, and a spinning key holder mounted on  ball bearings under the desk area.


My first hybrid pieces date from 2014 and include square steel tubes. “Jeu de  mains” took off in a new direction and allowed me, thanks to the metal I incorporated, to look beyond the architectural possibilities of wood alone. As my work continued to evolve I began making more sculptural pieces in 2016, opening the door to fresh possibilities with my first figurative works.

“The Archer” was the first character I made from metamorphosed barrels. This timeless piece, from an undefined continent, is neither masculine nor feminine. Its architecture includes oak and chestnut that were glued together and assembled. The increase curvature of the bow was achieved through making numerous notches (kerfing), to which I then glued an outer layer of veneer in a template.

“The Archer” by Didier Guenard

To be continued …

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