Dominic Furfaro’s house came with a shack in the back.

When he and his wife moved into their Hunters Park home nine years ago, the 7-by-14-foot structure was divided into two rooms: one for lawn equipment, the other for toys. Each harbored a door fit for its users: a tall one, and a short one.

The Duluth man turned two rooms into one. He added new flooring, drains and concrete floaters, and he rebuilt three sides of the foundation.

“However they built this before, everything was rotted out and just dirt,” Furfaro said.

Dominic Furfaro stands by his backyard studio Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Dominic Furfaro stands by his backyard studio Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

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Today, it’s a four-season space — add a space heater during winter — that he uses as his art studio.

The former Navy photographer started collecting driftwood and turning it into tabletop sculptures in fall 2019. That spring, COVID-19 changed everything.

“I had just finished ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude,’ the novel. I had become a maker not of little golden fishes, but driftwood sculptures. I had also delved into many nights reading ‘The Gulag Archipelago,’ and to my realization, these two books influenced my solitary work of the artist. Alone in my shack. Alone at the beach,” Furfaro said by email.

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One of Dominic Furfaro’s most recent creations sits in his studio Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. 
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
One of Dominic Furfaro’s most recent creations sits in his studio Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

His studio shack is a mere 40 feet from his home, and his go-to spot to create is seated at an old school desk in which you can store your books. “I used one as a kid,” he recalled.

Furfaro has a lake-facing window, an apple tree in the backyard, and deer who stop by the yard. An added bonus: “Beside having privacy, this is where I get the best connection for my phone,” he said.

Furfaro took time to answer questions about his hobby and his space.

Q: Name your first impressions of the shack.

A: The shack was built about 60 years ago and originally had two rooms, a lawn and garden tool room and with a separate entrance a playroom with a shuttered window. Age and erosion had rotted out the floor joist. One day, I decided let’s fix this mess.

Q: Did the previous owners leave behind anything interesting?

A: The playroom entry was short for a child and it has a Dutch door, and the tool room door was made from heavy planks. I backed these doors up to each other to make a solid wall and then fitted a new single door for the shack.

Q: Tell us how you use the space.

A: Two years ago I started making table top driftwood sculptures in the shack and a later project, photographing them in another space in our home. The theme throughout is wood. The smell of wood. The shape of wood. The essence of wood.

One of Dominic Furfaro’s creations sits on a patio table Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Furfaro’s studio sits in the background. 
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
One of Dominic Furfaro’s creations sits on a patio table Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Furfaro’s studio sits in the background. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Q: How does the shack play a role in your creative work?

A: Don’t we all want to escape to somewhere?

I’m grateful and fortunate to have just such a place. I rebuilt the shack as a project and then this driftwood project came up. At some point, I found myself in a cycle beachcombing, returning to the shack, sitting down to work and then photographing it.

Then COVID hit, and I spent much of 2020 avoiding crowds and reaching inwards to repeat the creative cycle.

Q: Tips for others who want to create a studio at home?

A: A studio can be as simple as a writing table. Get set up and call it yours.

He-sheds and she-sheds are fantastic, but what I think makes a space may not be realistic for most people. Carving out a place where you come back to work is only half of the work.

Inspiration is the other half.

Pieces of driftwood Dominic Furfaro collected from along Lake Superior sit on a table in his studio. 
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune
Pieces of driftwood Dominic Furfaro collected from along Lake Superior sit on a table in his studio. Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

Q: If you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, who would they be, and why?

A: Billie Holiday, soulful. Henry Miller, irreverent. Martin Luther King, unbowed.

To learn more

View Furfaro’s works at instagram.com/domstream.

Have a stunning or quirky space in your house? A barn, nursery, a living room? Tell us about it for a story in the News Tribune. Email mlavine@duluthnews.com or call 218-723-5346.