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The following article appeared in Stanford Magazine, Jaunuary, 2000.

Going Against the Grain

For David Burling, enough was enough. A successful Bay Area corporate attorney, he worked at Atari during its heyday in the early 1980s and at Gap during its rise to khaki prominence in the late '80s. But in the summer of 1991, contemplating his swiftly approaching 40th birthday, Burling decided to leave the law. "Burnt out is too easy a way to describe it," he says.

So he and his wife, Hannah, bought tickets to Seattle on the Green Toroise—"an old hippie bus with mattresses on the floor," he recalls fondly. From there they traveled by train through the United States and Canada, stopping and moving on at a whim. They eventually settled in Santa Fe, N.M., where they fell in love with the bookstores, the skiing and the artistic ambience. Burling, who had always enjoyed woodworking and had taken furniture-making classes in Virginia and Oregon during their 25-month sojourn, converted a garage into a furniture studio and began carving out a new career.

To develop a portfolio, he made tables, beds and a bookshelf for his own home. These days, he constructs 15 to 20 pieces of furniture a year, ranging from $650 sculpture stands to $3,000 dining room tables. While tables and beds are his bestsellers, there's an increased demand for "artful pieces of furniture to hide TV sets," says Burling, who was known as David Winslow at Stanford (he took his stepfather's last name after law school).

Burling builds his pieces primarily from domestic hardwoods, particularly cherry, maple and ash—"nothing endangered"—with occasional accents of exotic wood. He emphasizes details, selecting each board for its grain and often joining sections with wooden pins of contrasting color. "There's no comparison between manufactured furniture and something David can make," says San Francisco customer Maria Cherem, who has commissioned a cherry bedframe and shelves to hold her collection of rare books.

Burling has no regrets about the change from high-tech lawyering to old-fashioned craftsmanship. "I love working with my hands to create something tangible, functional and beautiful, as opposed to writing some memorandum to the president of the company that may or may not ever get a response," he says.

But he hasn't completely renounced his past: he still goes to work in Gap khakis.

Kathy Zonana, '93, JD '96

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