Three timber-minded folks
PHOTOGRAPHY Cody Doucette
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In a New Hampshire hardware store 20 years ago, I happened upon the most exquisite collection of folk art people. Fairies and fishermen, children resting their heads on a mama’s belly, a cat with a whip-like tail ready to pounce. They were painted and sparkled, smoothed and natural, made of driftwood. A little old hermit periodically brought in a few new characters, collected the pittance he asked for them, and then ambled off back to his shanty on the beach. Who thinks of this stuff? These guys do.
Stair Steps to Anywhere
Bill Amaya’s creations lead to new heights
So far, just about the only kind of unconventional staircase craftsman Bill Amaya hasn’t built is a stairway to Heaven. But there’s still time.
Some of the staircases he has completed, though, include the one that required two circular staircases—one right above the other.
“It was an incredibly intense project—among the hardest things I’ve ever done,” he says. “For six months, my head was wrapped around that.”
Amaya can build other one-of-a-kind necessities like cabinets, bridges and garden arbors with facing seats. He’s even built an office that resembles the interior of a yacht, what with its arching white oak rafters and portholes. But his specialty is stairways.
He’s built staircases that curve and drop in unexpected ways. Staircases with newel posts that you can spin as you ascend them. Southwest-style hand railings with Southwestern motifs etched into the wood. Hand railings that look like musical cleft notes. Craftsman-style hand railings that resemble the steps of the staircase. Stairs whose silicon bronze forged steel railings are crafted to look like wings. Railings with willow branches built into them. Stairs built from solid pieces of wood so not a single strip has been glued together.
He’s even built drawers that emerge from a staircase that he built for an Elkhorn condo where space was a premium.
“As far as I know we’re the only shop in Idaho capable of building some of the staircases we build,” he says.
A Nebraskan by birth, Amaya began working in construction before he got his driver’s license. When he did get wheels, he worked his way west through Colorado and Montana as a traveling carpenter.
After studying at Montana State University in Bozeman, he moved here in 1980, up the highway from his sister, who lives in Jerome.
His resume includes the Elkhorn condominiums and singer Steve Miller’s sound studio.
In 1999, after his two children were grown, he pursued his dream of opening his own architectural woodworking firm.
He chose the name Cimarron Lofting, inspired, he said, by reading Goatwalking, about the early work of well-respected conservationist Jim Corbett who led the sanctuary movement, smuggling Central American refugees into the U.S. during the ’80s.
“To me, it signified a person operating on their own judgment—perhaps as an outlaw outside the reach of the government. To me, it represented doing my own thing. And, really, a project has got to be interesting to me to want to do it,” Amaya says.
Amaya’s certainly been able to find plenty of projects to keep him interested in a Valley where clients and architects alike are just as eager as he to strive for one-of-a-kind designs.
Amaya usually sketches his design concepts by hand and computer. When he and the client agree on something, he retreats to his spacious 2,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art fabrication facility near Hailey’s Friedman Memorial Airport.
Helping him are two colleagues, Mike Rice and Bob Heed. He uses a technological marvel like the CNC router, which cuts wood according to the design Amaya has composed on a computer.
“When I started out in construction, we didn’t even have nail guns,” Amaya says. “Now we have computer-driven robots, which can carve the handrails I used to do by hand.”
Amaya credits those locals he collaborates with—from architect Michael Blash to Dennis Proksa of Black Rock Forge—for his success. Many of his colleagues have traveled the world, bringing back ideas from palaces in Europe and other architectural marvels, he notes.
“From the designers to the contractors. Even the clients end up having their fingerprints all over these pieces we do,” he says. >>>