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Bio Heading

photo of David Burling at work.

Artist's Statement

Function…Form…Beauty. Function, or purpose, is the bedrock of my design process. Then, my imagination is free to explore forms in which to house the function, drawing inspiration from many sources: nature, architecture, historic furniture styles (principally Japanese, Arts and Crafts, and Shaker styles), and, for custom pieces, the client's intended space for the finished piece. Throughout the design process and even during construction I try to remain always open to inspiration and serendipity (odds and ends in the scrap box, a wrong cut, a song from the radio…). My goal is elegance, simplicity in appearance, focusing attention on the form and the materials. I include small details to emphasize the design and the wood: the shape of a leg, the diamond pin through the hidden tenon, a book-matched panel. I want the viewer to see and appreciate something new each time he or she looks at the piece. Still, the object must anticipate and address every need of the user in a comfortable and easy manner. Finally, it must be crafted to last for generations.


My interest in design goes back to my childhood when my grandmother, an interior designer, often took me on her rounds to visit clients, showrooms, a custom furniture maker and museums in Washington, D.C. She also designed and made furniture herself. My grandmother was always explaining to me the history of furniture, design, and art in the context of world history.

Meanwhile, I played tennis, rode horses, read books and made models, mostly of airplanes. My parents used to think I'd become a surgeon because of the way I worked with my hands. When it came time to pick a profession, however, surgery never crossed my mind. I remember quite clearly in college contemplating pursuing a career in law, like many in my family, or becoming a cabinetmaker in the Rocky Mountains. I took the more traveled road, lured by familiarity, money, power and prestige (back before lawyer jokes). There were many great times: traveling in private jets; meetings all over the world; challenging and interesting clients, colleagues, and issues; lots of monetary rewards. On some level, however, it was not entirely satisfactory and a gnawing feeling of disenchantment grew.

I had been looking for woodworking courses for some time before I finally found one. Two nights a week I would go straight from my job as a lawyer to an old high school in the Mission District of San Francisco where most people were attending to learn English as a second language. On the second floor there was an old high school shop with ancient, but very high quality machinery. The woodworking teacher was a postal service quality control inspector by day. After learning the safety rules our first project was a wooden spoon of our own design. We had to use each of the machines and then hand-tools. My design and finished product were not exceptional, but it was so much fun and felt so good: I still have that spoon (my wife was afraid to use it!).

Not long afterwards, as I approached my fortieth birthday and was involved in a near death auto accident, events conspired to lead me to leave my job as a lawyer, sell my house, put everything in storage, and travel with my wife all over the United States and Canada by Green Tortoise bus, Trans-Canadian Railways, Amtrak, and car. Eventually tiring of road food and motels we decided to settle in various locations for a month or more at one time. Among other places we picked Portland because of the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts where I took all the wood courses offered one summer. Then, we lived in a converted tobacco warehouse in Richmond while I attended woodworking courses in the Department of Arts and Crafts at Virginia Commonwealth University. Being surrounded by all the young students with their very open and diverse perspectives on design, often coming from disciplines in other arts like metalworking, glass, or clay, was an incredibly mind-opening experience for me. Their energy was contagious and I even worked with them into the wee hours as our final projects were due.

Our son was born just before we went to Portland and traveling around was becoming more difficult. We went to Santa Fe, New Mexico for the summer (having spent the winter two years previously) and decided to settle down right there. The local community college had (and has) a great woodworking program where I continued to take classes almost every semester for several years, honing my skills and learning new ones. Meanwhile, in November 1993 I outfitted our two-car garage with a temporary shop as we built a house and shop on nearby land.

I started my business by building up a portfolio based on projects for our house: beds, bedside tables, a dining table, a storage cabinet and stools. By the summer of 1994 I had my first commission. In June 1995 I had a booth full of furniture for my first show. In 1996 I won the Best Woodworking prize at a show and was accepted into highly competitive juried shows (the American Craft Council show in San Francisco and the Southwest Arts Festival in Albuquerque). In 1999 a bed of my design was accepted for a very selective show called New Mexico 2000 at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts.

I now have a shop, showroom, and office adjacent to the house we built, with views out over five mountain ranges. I continue to keep busy with a constant backlog of commissions for a wide variety of pieces for customers all over the country. I belong to a few woodworking organizations to help keep me current on developments in my field, as well as taking the occasional course in a different area of woodworking. So far, despite a few accidents, I still have all my fingers and continue to be excited by designing and making furniture, I just wish my grandmother had lived to see what I'm doing now.



  • Santa Fe Community College–woodworking, summer 1993-2000
  • Virginia Commonwealth University, Dept. of Arts and Crafts 1993
  • Oregon School of Arts and Crafts–summer 1992
  • San Francisco City College–woodworking, 1990-1991
  • Georgetown University Law Center–J.D. 1977
  • Stanford University–B.A. 1973

Juried Shows

  • American Craft Council Show, San Francisco, CA August 2010
  • American Craft Council Show, St. Paul, MN, April 2010
  • Northern New Mexico Woodworkers Guild, New Mexico State Capitol, October 2003
  • Style New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM; 2002
  • Artisans of the New Forest, Santa Fe, NM; 2001
  • Faculty and Student Show, Santa Fe Community College, NM; 2000
  • New Mexico 2000, NM Museum of Fine Arts; 1999-2000
  • American Craft Council Craft Show, San Francisco, CA; 1996-1999
  • Southwest Arts Festival, Albuquerque, NM; 1996-1998
  • Sitting Room Only, Santa Fe Community College, NM 1997
  • New Mexico Woodworkers' Exhibition, Santa Fe Community College, NM; 1995


  • Santa Fe Convention Center; end table, sofa table, and backless bench; September 2008
  • First Place, Furniture Design and Craftsmanship, Santa Fe Furniture Expo; 1997
  • Third Place, Furniture Design and Craftsmanship, Santa Fe Furniture Expo; 1997 Santa Fe Show
  • Best Woodworking, Santa Fe Furniture Expo; 1996 Albuquerque Show

Professional Associations

  • American Association of Woodturners
  • American Craft Council
  • The Furniture Society

Teaching Experience

  • Woodworking Instructor, Santa Fe Waldorf School; 2000-2001


American Craft Council logo.
American Craft
American Association of Woodturners logo.
American Association
of Woodturners
Furniture Society logo.
Furniture Society

Small example photo of furniture. Sustainable