Local artisan Andrew Soliz gives new life to old trees with his furniture business, Tatankamani Woodworks.
By Ashley Ryan
Every business has a story, but few are as compelling as that of Tatankamani Woodworks. Laguna Beach resident Andrew Soliz opened up the woodworking shop—a vast unit that doubles as a workspace as well as a showroom—during the height of the pandemic. But his initial success over the last year has only confirmed what Soliz already knew: This shop was his dream fulfilled.
After serving as a general contractor for more than 30 years, Soliz is no stranger to building. But, as COVID-19 surged, he faced challenges that he couldn’t seem to overcome. “Material costs went up, availability of materials went down [and] people stopped being friendly,” he notes. Soliz decided it was time to finally open the shop he had always dreamed of owning.
A quick stroll through his showroom, however, and you’ll find that Tatankamani Woodworks is not your typical woodworking studio. Towering slabs, ranging from cherry to walnut to oak to redwood, fill the showroom, each sustainably harvested to be repurposed into something new. “I only work with trees that are on the ground already or that are damaged and sick and need to be taken down,” Soliz explains. In addition, he works with an urban forestry program that plants two trees for each one that is removed.
“I see the trees as relatives and, whenever they lay down and die, I get to give them life in another form,” Soliz explains, noting that his Lakota ancestors came from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. “I really want to honor the life that the tree has lived.”
He uses these large-scale pieces of timber to create fantastical tables, chairs, desks, benches, bar tops and more, walking clients around the room so they can choose the piece of wood that speaks to them before building each custom piece. “I really want every piece to be a heritage piece—a collectible, something that’s unique,” he says.
Right now, he’s booked four months out, crafting each piece of furniture in his Laguna Canyon studio. “Everything I do is with joinery; I don’t use screws or nails to hold it together. So that’s time-consuming,” Soliz explains.
He has skillfully mastered the technique, which he started learning about at only 10 years old. Fascinated by his grandmother’s antique furniture, he decided to take apart one of her chairs after feeling baffled over what was keeping it together. “I discovered the joinery—the joints and the system that holds it together—and it just blew my mind,” he says. He then put the chair back together, adding that he just instinctively knew what to do. That led him on a journey to learn all he could about woodworking, through library books, high school woodshop classes and plenty of practice.
In addition to custom furniture, Soliz also crafts charcuterie/cutting boards and is now a resident artist at Woods Cove Art Studio & Gallery, with a group show opening in November. Eventually, he hopes to open his shop to the public so that locals can practice woodworking, borrow tools or even take classes, which he says will launch in early 2022. But, in everything he does, you can feel a little bit of the magic of nature.
“I believe every tree has a life in itself, like we all have our own spirit inside of us,” Soliz says. “It’s my job to see the spirit that lives in this piece and, if I do my job right, you’ll see it too when it’s done.”