Most women know how to hammer a nail into a wall. (OK, maybe not all women). Catherine Blomstrom’s skills go way beyond that one simple job. She designs beautifully crafted wood projects—built in wall shelves, cabinets, staircases, platform beds, media storage, bookcases, closets, mouldings, trims, countertops, you name it. And when she describes her involvement as “hands on,” she really means it. Working from her studio in Williamsburg, Blomstrom designs the projects, produces detailed drawings, and does all the carpentry herself.
That could be why, when we met for coffee at Three Guys on 96th Street, Blomstrom was enjoying a large fruit salad, her second lunch of the day. Slim, toned, and vibrating amazing energy, we began to understand the physicality of what she does and how she has to eat in order to work. “I work with power tools all day,” Blomstrom said, noting that the tools can be heavy and the work dusty and noisy. She wears earplugs and has a good dust collection system in her studio. “Girls are just more careful than boys,” she said, answering a question about workplace dangers. “We don’t play with our toys the way the boys do.”
Blomstrom grew up in Nebraska and those solid Midwestern values are woven throughout her life, from the way she approaches her work to her family ties and role as a single mother. Her family home was a working farm for producing corn and soybeans. “My dad had a shop and had to be able to work on equipment,” she said. As a child, Blomstrom said she would take things apart, never bothering to read the directions.
She graduated from the University of Nebraska, studying engineering and construction, then working as an engineer in public administration. Along with her parents, she dappled in real estate, buying, restoring, and selling homes. She still owns a Victorian home in Lincoln that she renovated herself.
Making the decision to move to New York (her mother was originally from the Bronx and her parents met while undergraduates at NYU), Blomstrom received a graduate degree in structural engineering from Columbia University. “I decided to come to New York and the obvious graduate school choice was Columbia,” she said. “The city comes first, and then you make your life to suit that.”
Customer satisfaction is high on Blomstrom’s list. She works closely with each client, getting a good understanding of their expectations, and detailing everything on paper so that there are no misunderstandings or surprises. “I’m very clear about what I’m doing,” she said, noting that repeat clients and referrals make up much of her business.
She works with all kinds of wood and she can design to match existing décor and furniture. Although the economy has caused some people to put off work, Blomstrom is still busy. “New Yorkers will always have work they want done,” she said. “They want to have their homes organized.”
Larger projects are put together in her studio, taken apart, and then reassembled on site. She gives an installation time for each job, with frequent updates. Blomstrom is also licensed as a general contractor, although she often uses other G.C.’s on her jobs.
“I’m a carpenter,” said Blomstrom. “I don’t know if it gives an impression that I’m an artist or a union carpenter on a project.” Her work clothes are “the greatest distressed jeans ever,” that several clients have tried to buy from her.
Blomstrom has managed to structure a career that suits her talents and needs. She has two daughters (Alison, 16, and Claire, 11), and her flexible schedule allows her to meet both work and family demands. “It gives you a ton of freedom,” she said of her job, “although not as much freedom as you would think.” Still, she manages to make it to special days at her daughters’ schools. As she was influenced by her father, her daughters seem to be following that family tradition. Claire, Blomstrom, said laughing, “is a demon with a screw driver.”
Catherine Blomstrom’s website is www.cbcarpentry.com
Photo of Catherine by Tristan DeBoer
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: Sidewalk cafes of the Lower East Side or Brooklyn on a beautiful day.
Favorite Place to Shop: Vintage clothing and jewelry on Bedford Avenue.
Favorite New York Sight: A clear night from the Beekman Tower Hotel’s classic Deco cocktail lounge.
Favorite New York Moment: Finding the exact record in my mind on St. Marks Place after hours on a Saturday night, after the clubs, after a live blues set, before walking home with the Sunday Times—more than a moment but only New York.
What You Love About New York: Eccentric New Yorkers.
What You Hate About New York: Eccentric New Yorkers.