New York maker David Cummings of Adirondack Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Adirondack Kitchen
Has a stranger ever changed the course of your life? That’s what happened to David Cummings.
To be fair, he and his wife Yuliana had already embarked on a road toward a more sustainable lifestyle, but when the out-of-state owner of a mansion he was helping build in Lake George decided — again — that the workers had to scrap several large rooms they’d erected the week before because they “just didn’t like it,” he decided once and for all to devote his life and work to building a more sustainable, authentic future. (And yes, there’s plenty of room for fun, beauty, and whimsy in his life and work plan, too.)
Cummings wife Yuliana. Photo courtesy of Adirondack Kitchen
The most tangible result of his new #lifeplan is a handbuilt, off-the-grid, solar-powered home in Bolton Landing where he, Yuliana, and their two children live plus a booming business at Adirondack Kitchen making custom hardwood cutting boards and, well, pretty much anything of hand hewn and carved wood, for iconic hipster lifestyle emporiums like Soho House and Black Seed Bagels.
Curious to learn more? Read on for our Q&A.
New York Makers: How did you get into the building business?
David Cummings: Well, I moved to Lake George when I was 18 in 1992. My parents were just waiting until I graduated from college to move up here from Long Island, and I joined them. I did the community college thing, studying at Suffolk for a while, then Adirondack Community College, and then Dutchess Community College. I studied a lot of things without really finding my niche. What I was really serious about at that point was music, and my friends and I formed the Isaac Jogues band, named after one of the first white people to ever see Lake George. He was a Jesuit priest; we weren’t focused on the religious symbolism, we just liked the name.
NYM: So what happened to the band?
DC: Well, after eight years of trying to make it, and being fairly successful but never gathering a real following beyond the region and New York City, I decided to hang it up. I have never been able to say why exactly, but I was completely fascinated by the idea of carpentry. So I apprenticed for a carpenter in Bolton Landing, and one thing led to another. For a decade I helped build houses, I created my own furniture, I did custom projects.
NYM: Did you work for a builder or do your own thing?
DC: For many years, both. I’d get an idea for this fantastic piece of furniture, and I’d spend hundreds of hours making it, executing this complicated vision, and it would be finished. And then I’d just have to sit on it and just hope it would sell. I’d also do custom orders for clients, work on insets and build-ins in libraries, kitchens, and bathrooms. To pay the bills, I worked on custom homes. The last one I worked on changed everything. I got completely turned off. I was building a home with a crew of people, and we’d never met the owner. The manager of the project would photograph our work at the end of the week and send it to the owners in Texas. Then they’d respond — without even seeing the rooms in person — saying they wanted us tear down the rooms and start again. The waste of money and resources was depressing. I just found it so discouraging.
Adirondack Kitchen's workshop. Photo courtesy of Adirondack Kitchen
NYM: So what do you mean when you say it “changed everything?”
DC: My wife, who works in the Queensbury public school system as a business administrator, and I had already been eating healthier and trying to reduce our carbon footprint, before it was even called that. We discussed it and decided we were going to go all in.
NYM: How did that manifest itself?
DC: In ways big and small. We helped start the first farmer’s market in Bolton Landing. We planted a garden and used it to grow food ourselves. We bought land, and I built a 12 x 8 foot cabin using nothing but chainsaws and hand tools. Then, I drafted a plan to build a timber frame home with nontraditional straw bale walls, and figured out how we could live off-grid and power our home with solar panels. It went up in 2009. I also launched Adirondack Kitchen about three years ago, though it existed in different guises for a few years without that name. I guess you could say I’ve spent my career and life progressively downsizing. Now, instead of building custom houses, I spend my days making custom cutting boards from wood sourced right here in the Adirondacks or just south, and working on custom projects for brands I respect, and for people I know personally. I have three part-time workers, though I’m trying to figure out how to make at least one full-time. And we always scale up around the holidays. November, December, into January, we have five people in our workshop and the orders keep coming in and flowing out.
Photo courtesy of Adirondack Kitchen
NYM: It sounds like you’ve got it all figured out.
DC: I just had to figure out what I was looking for, and what felt authentic and real. For me, that’s simplicity. I want my life and my work to be simple. To reflect my values, to be rewarding and to reward others.
Circular simplicity...Sounds like the kind of cutting board (and let’s be real, philosophy) my kitchen needs, before the joyful, frazzling chaos of the holidays hits.
Photo courtesy of Adirondack Kitchen