Crafting a Life

A former ad man finds his true calling working with his hands

Back in the early ’80s, Russell Hudson was a 30-something, up-and-coming art director at a glamorous Madison Avenue ad agency — and he was miserable. “Advertising is notoriously difficult, and as I got higher up, it got more cutthroat,” he says. “I have the heart of an artist — I’m not that aggressive.”

Hudson’s wife, Corinne, encouraged him to go freelance, even though they had a little son to consider. But he was still unhappy, and began to wonder if he could turn his interest in woodworking into a career. “Corinne said, ‘Make a list of all the things you like about woodworking and all things you like about being in the ad world.’ The list for advertising was about six things, and the list for woodworking went on and on. I had no idea how much I enjoyed it.”

Paneled walnut wainscot with a step-out (left) adds rich detail; you can also set a beer on it, jokes HudsonCorner wainscoting

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The double computer center (right) is part of a long unit made of rustic natural cherry that allows the knots and particularities of the wood to shine throughDouble computer center

Making the decision to switch was the easy part; becoming a pro was another matter. But Hudson points out that a stint in advertising will dispel any natural reticence about asking for help. “One of the ad houses I’d worked with had brought in a professional cabinetmaker from Pennsylvania to build some consoles,” he recalls. “So I called him up, and I drove to Pennsylvania five or six times with reams of questions about how do you glue this, and how do you fit that. We enjoyed each other’s company, and we’d go fishing, and this guy virtually gave me a crash course in how to be a cabinetmaker.”

Before long, Hudson made the transition from ad guy to woodworker, a move he calls “leaping off a cliff.”

Dressing room

Form and function: Handsome built-ins — like this one in a dressing room (top), or the long wall unit that incorporates a window seat — are not only beautiful and useful, but add value to the homeWindow seat

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“I thought, my gracious, I’m reinventing myself from scratch. I’ve gotta feed everyone. We lived on the edge for four or five years. I didn’t have all the right tools, and I didn’t even know enough to know I didn’t have them. But I slowly became wiser.”

Nowadays, Hudson is a cheerfully enthusiastic master of his craft, and given half a chance, will talk a mile a minute about his exacting methods. For one thing, he buys wood directly from the mill. “I plane it down so it’s straight as an arrow, and dead square… ‘Meticulous’ speaks about a man’s disposition,” he adds. “I can make a wall unit 15 by 12, and if there’s something wrong in the lower left-hand corner, my eye goes to that. Perfectionism is silly, but I tend to lean in that direction.”

Hudson uses only three-quarter-inch, high-quality woods or furniture-grade ply, and no particleboard or substitutes that might warp or disintegrate over time. “I’d rather use the best materials — it’s only about 15 percent of the cost anyway; the rest is labor. I tell customers, ‘I know it’s your home, but it’s my cabinetry,’ ” he says with a laugh. Whatever the scale of the job, he builds the pieces in his Putnam County workshop, sends them to a professional finisher, and then installs the units in the client’s home.

Coffered ceilingThe coffered ceiling (left) and mantel and chimney piece (whose arch mimics that of the brickwork) demonstrate Hudson’s meticulous attention to detail

Mantel and chimney

 Estimates are free. “And I render a drawing, with little plants and books or whatever, so the client can respond viscerally, rather than do a line drawing with measurements. More like an interior designer.”

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Both of Hudson’s sons, Russell and Brian, work with him. (Russell quit a job in the film business to do so.) Luckily, both seem to have inherited their father’s aesthetic and building skills. “I can’t fire them,” Hudson says. “Their mother would kill me.”

Hudson Cabinetmaking, Inc.
84 Glenvue Dr., Carmel
845-225-2967 or


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