Dorian Small’s exquisite craftsmanship powers Bluestem Builds.
Bespoke furniture company Bluestem Build’s owner Dorian Small grew up in El Reno, where his father started taking him to construction sites as soon as he was old enough to walk. The jobs weren’t difficult for him, as they mainly consisted of picking up construction scraps and straightening.
“Some of my earliest childhood memories were on residential job sites, cleaning up and harassing the various contractors,” Small said. “I started apprenticing with framers, brick masons and trim carpenters at an early age — mostly manual labor and summer work — but I was lucky enough to witness and absorb the concept of ‘grind’ and high standards, which have served me throughout my career. My father is an elite craftsman, and his discerning eye has been a great source of inspiration and collaboration.”
Small would eventually move to Norman to study anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, but his trajectory was always toward the construction trades. He spends most of his time running his small business that’s focused on new residential construction — when he’s not climbing mountains in Colorado, running trails in Oklahoma or just unwinding with his guitar — but the smaller volume of those projects (one or two at a time) gives him opportunities to create beautiful, bespoke furniture for clients.
The process from initial meeting to delivery of the product takes two to three weeks. Small said the scope of the work is wide open when it comes to residential needs; he creates pieces for kitchens, dining rooms, bedrooms, etc., but said he finds dining room tables “particularly fun and satisfying.” A few of his favorite and most commonly used wood species are white oak, black walnut and maple, but he’s gone more exotic on a few projects for exterior use, such as cumaru on decks and some outdoor furniture projects.
“Personally, I’m a bit of a minimalist, and American Craftsman oriented,” Small said, “but every project of course requires a unique set of eyes. Every project is different. Respect the material. I think being accustomed to working with and sourcing different wood species and steel and fasteners and various finishing techniques opens up all sorts of directions that may not be obvious to most folks.”
Durability is also important to Small. After all, it’s a mark of excellent craftsmanship, so he builds furniture to take the wear and tear of everyday use. “Durability is a combination of choosing the right material and an understanding of the best fasteners and joinery techniques,” he said.
Bluestem Build operates out of a workshop in central Norman, and Small said he’s been fortunate to have a great word-of-mouth business. Potential clients can find more information about Small’s work at the company website, bluestembuild.com.
As for the process, Small said an initial meeting allows time to discuss the project with potential clients, and begin the process of developing a relationship. “I’ve had great success in situations where the client openly trusts my judgment to deliver something spectacular.”