TEXT BY MICHAELA CAVALLARO
PHOTOGRAPHED BY CLAYTON SIMONCIC
Sandrine Moser has four strangers standing in the driveway outside her Falmouth home, and they look a bit uneasy. “There’s a big pile of lumber right there,” Moser tells them, gesturing at a pile of two-by-fours and one-by-sixes outside the woodshop she’s built in her garage. “And you’re going home with a piece of furniture in a few hours.”
It’s a big leap for the women who’ve gathered to work with Moser this afternoon, all of them beginning woodworkers. One has never so much as lifted a drill. But Moser, a lively 48-year-old, is a smoother of learning curves. Through her Studio Artisane, she offers small groups of women the time, tools, and skills to build an array of wooden projects: Adirondack chairs, planters, cane chairs, benches. Three of today’s apprentices are out to make coffee tables; the other wants a bike rack. “I just want to teach women to use power tools and make cool things,” Moser says.
ABOVE Sandrine Moser tacks an E onto “artisane” because it indicates femininity in French.
Born in southern France, Moser moved to the U.S. in her 20s. She and her husband, Henri, lived in rural Vermont for a while. That’s where Moser first acquired a drill, miter saw, and table saw, using YouTube to teach herself to install wood flooring to replace some dreadful carpet. In 2010, the family moved to Freeport to enroll their young kids, Madeleine and Matisse, in the French-immersion school L’Ecole Française du Maine. In their new place, Matisse missed his queen-size bed, left behind in Vermont. That Christmas, after she and Matisse built a tiny bunk bed for Madeleine’s dolls, Moser had an epiphany. “It was so easy,” she says, remembering the doll-bed build. “I said, wait a minute! We can build your bed ourselves.”
Soon after, the family moved into their current home, a quirky 1980s build, where they wanted for both storage space and new furnishings. So Moser started making more pieces: a platform bed for her and Henri, with storage space underneath; a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf; even a cozy home for the family’s cats, complete with a door shaped like a cat head.
After several years gaining confidence as a woodworker — and accruing an enviable set of power tools — Moser started teaching adult-ed woodworking classes, and in 2019, she left a career in human resources to start Studio Artisane. From the outset, she marketed her offerings to women, fighting the stereotype of the shop as a man’s place. (Couples sometimes take classes together; the Adirondack-chair project is particularly popular with new homeowners.) These days, Studio Artisane welcomes more than 100 women a year for afternoon workshops, and about as many school-age kids sign up for weekend classes or weeklong summer camps.
Many projects Moser builds with students (as well as her own builds) are based on free plans from DIY bloggers. She also designs some herself, and she’s big on reclaimed and reimagined materials — recently, she’s been intrigued by the possibilities of hardware-store paint stirrers, which she used as slats on a cabinet and as structural elements for a groovy pendant light hanging in her living room.
In the garage with today’s small class, Moser starts with the basics: how to release the stop on a tape measure without getting hurt, how to angle a drill to keep from stripping a screw-head. By their second hour, the women are confidently operating a miter saw, working through a cut list Moser gave them. As the afternoon progresses, they fit pieces together, gluing and drilling and occasionally using a rubber mallet to work an obstinate piece into place. After four hours, they’re loading their completed projects into their cars, while Moser beams in the driveway. “I’m happy,” she says. “They’re going home with a skill they didn’t have when they came in.”