We don’t often think of a woodworker as an artist. The term that is usually applied to someone who works with wood is “artisan,” a skilled craftsman. In a few cases, however, those who design and create objects made of wood can indeed be called artists. Allan Rosenthal is one of them. Using a mix of exotic veneers and woods, glass, lighting, cables and unique hardware, Rosenthal creates cabinetry that blurs the boundary between items of utility and sculpture. His masterpieces in wood broaden expectations of functional forms, and define the difference between ordinary and extraordinary. “Quality is our most respected asset,” says this third-generation woodworker, who has fashioned his Scottsdale-based Linear Fine Woodworking with acute attention to detail and fine craftsmanship. He caters to clients who understand that a well-designed piece of furniture can be a pleasure and treasure for a lifetime.
To understand the depth of Rosenthal’s convictions, it is important to know of his background. “My grandfather was a master woodworker in Europe, and absolutely dragged my father, who was a tie salesman, into the business. World War II came, and my father lost his whole family and everyone he knew from his town. He’s a Holocaust survivor; he was in Auschwitz and spent four years in concentration camps. “If my grandfather had not dragged him into woodworking, we would not be having this conversation,” Rosenthal adds in a voice made thick with unshed tears. “If he hadn’t had a trade, he would have died working in the fields like everyone else. He saw big strapping guys last two days and then die from the work.
My life today is about where my father came from. The elder Rosenthal lived in Czechoslovakia and Belgium before immigrating to the United States, where he ran through a succession of carpentry jobs that included building coffins. He settled in New York in the 1950s, and it was in his furniture shop here that his son was introduced to woodworking. “I remember walking to the shop after school as early as first grade,” Rosenthal reminisces. “I’d sit and doodle until the store closed. When I was older, I put handles on the furniture, and then got into finishing.” Rosenthal says his father did not push him toward woodworking, but after a brief hiatus as manager of the local skating rink, he drifted back to his father’s shop, discovering a passion for designing and building custom furniture. “I was about 18 when my business really took off. We were doing some cool cabinetry and very nice laminate work. People were wowed by the quality. But when the stock market crashed in 1987, it hit us hard.”
About this same time, Rosenthal and his wife, Marion, traveled to the Valley to visit her twin sister. “It was October, and I never was a cold-weather person,” Rosenthal says. “I felt like I was in heaven. I absolutely fell in love with Arizona. “Realizing it was time to move on, Rosenthal closed his business and headed West with a spirit that was receptive to fresh beginnings. “When I got here everyone told me I was nuts to open a shop, that I’d never make it. I had a nice portfolio, but the best job offer I got was an assistant foreman position for $8 an hour,” he recalls. “So I opened a shop in Tempe—1,200 square feet for $350 on a month-to-month lease. It was such fun to drive down Pima Road on the way to work. I felt like I was on vacation every day for at least a year and a half.” It didn’t take long for Rosenthal to launch his reputation as a master woodworker, building a word-of-mouth career on the caliber of his work. He later moved his company to the Scottsdale Airpark and has expanded the facility several times.
With over 30 employees today, Linear Fine Woodworking continues to burst at the seams. “I had no game plan, no business plan when I moved here in 1989. It’s all been based on keeping up with demand.” Drawing from a rich palette of exotic woods, such as Mahogany Chenille, Ribbon Sapele and Fiddleback Anigre, combined with architectural details that include glass, natural stone and metals, each Linear Fine Woodworking creation is a masterpiece of contemporary design and detail. Projects range from a single wall unit to an entire houseful of custom furniture. “No detail, from placement of a light to acoustical design or matching grains, is too small for our attention,” Rosenthal says with passion. “Our clients understand that the kind of quality we produce takes time. We press our own veneers on site, and it’s a tedious process that cannot be rushed. We will never sacrifice quality to meet a timeline. “We really try hard to take things that people see as an eyesore and turn them into a design element,” he adds. “On one project there was a fireplace flue that we enhanced with a brushed corrugated aluminum, tying it into our design. You would never know it’s a flue.”
Clients are scattered throughout Arizona, as well as across the country. Sharree Wondrasek was so pleased with Rosenthal’s work at her Scottsdale residence that she hired the firm to build cabinetry for a summer home that fronts Lake Michigan. “I knew exactly what I wanted and couldn’t find it,” Wondrasek recalls. “I had a little source book and drove all over Phoenix—I even went to Texas. When I found Allan, I was done—his work is spectacular. He is just a very, very good man, and it shows all the way down through his staff.
“He and his guys came to Michigan when my house was framed, and it couldn’t have been smoother,” she adds. “I wanted all the bedrooms and kitchen built in, so that when the kids and grandkids come, everything can be put away and wiped clean and we can go have fun on the beach. Allan would talk back and forth with my builder, and I can’t tell you how well they worked together. When it was time for installation, it went like silk.” Rosenthal is highly regarded in the design community, with builders, architects and interior designers eager to sing his praises. “Allan is really dedicated to creating quality products and finds creative solutions to any challenge that comes up,” says Randall Crow of R.J. Gurley Custom Homes. “He worked on a project with me for a client who had two children and wanted to have two game stations built as cubes that would roll out from a built-in entertainment center. They wanted them to open up to hold any and all equipment a kid would have, to be used as a table to operate the equipment and then fold back up and be pushed out of sight. And it had to be such that a 6- or 7-year-old could operate. He made this piece out of exotic Swiss pearwood with stainless steel inlays, and it was just what the client wanted.” Randall Fonce of Fonce Architecture and Paul Moran of Moran Architects confirm that Rosenthal’s talent and integrity are two qualities that have led them to bring him in on dozens of projects. “We met by happy coincidence on a project, and now if it’s my choice, Allan does all my cabinetwork,” insists Moran. “His staff is very innovative, and their attention to and level of detail is very high.” “Allan is so unbelievably creative, and he has no ego that gets in the way,” adds designer Gaye Ferrara, a 1994 Master of the Southwest. “Besides being a great businessman and very talented, he’s really one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known.” “He does what he says he’ll do when he says he’ll do it,” adds designer Trent Gasbarra. “You can count on him because he always follows through. He’s a very personable guy, very people-oriented, and it shows with the way he runs his business.”
Confident yet humble, this mild-mannered Master of the Southwest accepts the many compliments from his colleagues and clients with grace and heartfelt satisfaction. And he is quick to acknowledge the skills of his employees. “Each woodworker has his own individual project to work on. It’s not one guy doing the cutting, another guy for hardware, another for the doors. You can’t control the quality that way. When a woodworker builds something from the ground up, he has pride in that piece because his name is on it, too,” Rosenthal explains. “You can sense it when you walk around the shop. Every person you walk by wants to make it right, like they are building for their own home.”
By combining Old World craftsmanship with computer-aided design and cutting-edge technology, the craftsmen at Linear Fine Woodworking can produce detailed inlays and challenging designs with pinpoint perfection. But it is their quality of caring and eye for detail that make the difference, Rosenthal says. He seeks staff that shares his personal and professional vision. As such, he has retained many of the same employees—including Charlie Scott, Garrett Brown and Chad Chalfant—over the company’s 15 years in business. “So many people have a hand in making things run behind the scenes,” he adds. “Everything we do is so original, and the whole process is like being in labor. When a project is complete, it’s like delivering a baby. That’s how serious we take it. We are connected passionately, and it’s a very joyous feeling.”