October 2020

Sergio Raynal:A Life’s Second Act Forged Against the Grain

Author: Tim Wood | Photographer: M.KAT Photography

Open the door to Sergio Raynal’s understated, runway-adjacent Hunter Road office park woodworking studio, and you immediately realize you’re in for an inspiring encounter. The bass guitar-shaped piece of rare Hawaiian Koa wood hung on the greeting room wall and the nine-foot-long family table forged from a once-in-a-lifetime timber find with a human silhouette in the grain clue you in to his craft (the latter a 10-year-old creation Raynal reacquired after his client moved and commissioned a replacement).

Enter the back of his shop and you’re greeted by Bessie. The personally-rebuilt 1965 GMC Dually delivery truck with a flatbed made of African Padauk hardwood, nestled amidst his collection of unique slabs of soon-to-be-imagined wooden masterpieces, hints at the variety and depth of his pursuits.

The notched-out wreath hooks in a set of mahogany double entry doors sitting next to Bessie speak to his dogged determination to marry artisanry and old-school innovation that lead to personalized pieces for every client.

“She loves Christmas and she shouldn’t have to put a nail in that to meet her needs. There’s always a way if you’re listening,” Raynal said. “I want every piece to be irreplaceable heirlooms that are an extension of their owner—tell their story.”

The tale of how this 58-year-old Venezuelan-born, Canadian-bred son of a French furniture store owner found his life’s calling and his way to Hilton Head Island is as epic as the pieces he creates—a life filled with as many fearlessly improvised rifts as his favorite jazz compositions, full of the masterfully crafted yet polar-opposite acts found in his most beloved Broadway plays.

His parents moved to Canada when he was one. They later moved Sergio and his younger brother and sister to Florida, where Raynal became a college graduate—but not before a West Point nomination out of high school that was only rescinded when officials realized he was still a Canadian citizen.

The first two decades of his adult life were defined by a 15-year “starter marriage” and a corporate life of earned excess: luxury cars, $1,000 suits and regular travel to Korea, Japan and Europe—first as a high-end real estate consultant in Boca Raton for the legendary Landauer firm and later as a top recruit to industry leader KPMG, the only company executive at the time without an MBA. He was that good.

He and his wife moved to Los Angeles, where he took home “high six figures” with stock options and mingled with the elites of Hollywood society. By the turn of the century, 20 years into a fast-lane, high-powered career, he was divorced, disillusioned and ready for an off ramp.

“I should have been fulfilled. By most folks’ accounts, I had it all. But I could never point to anything in my business and say, ‘I did that’,” Raynal said.

Good with his hands like his dad, he scratched that itch with woodworking, an antidote hobby to his pressure-cooker business environment.

During one fateful pre-Y2Kdinner party, Raynal found himself among a group of friends talking about home renovations and the struggles of finding the right craftsman. That led to his first “paid” work, a floor-to-ceiling, four-wall library buildout in a Beverly Hills condo.

“I had no portfolio, didn’t know what to charge, I ended up basically paying for my materials. It was a money pit in time invested, a disaster on so many levels. But I loved every minute of it,” Raynal said. “And thankfully, she was thoroughly pleased with the work.”

That led to more referrals and work done in his garage nights and weekends. Six months later, Raynal decided to “take a long walk off the short pier,” grow his hair shoulder length and empty out his savings and 401k to build a shop and hang his shingle.

“I think folks thought I was this semi-retired gentleman carpenter with a golden parachute at first, but I took an all-in risk and put in long hours to grow this passion,” he said. “I have found that there is still a longing for things not so disposable, a need for long-lasting craftsmanship in this high-tech disposable world. Those people aren’t always easy to find, but thankfully, we’ve found each other.”

After nearly two decades of fabricating everything from end tables to complete studs-gutting Belle Epoque-inspired wine cellar builds, Raynal has built a devoted following almost entirely by word of mouth, earning recommendations from top West Coast designers and repeat patronage from titans of industry, sports icons and larger-than-life celebrities.

He does little marketing and never repeats a design. His devotees’ online reviews laud his commitment to superior crafts-manship, combining traditional joinery—no nails, no screws— with Old World techniques such as marquetry and inlay:
“His work is perfection. A true craftsman.”
“Impeccable quality and clean, understated lines,” reads another.
“He is of a sophistication, class and intellect that is rare, which define him as an artist,” another repeat client said.
While he appreciates the praise, he savors the collaboration with clients even more. “We sit down, figure out where the piece is going to live, how you will use it, where you will use it. By the end of our conversation, my clients feel it is as much their design as mine,” he said. “Clients become friends; I go to their weddings, travel with them, make lifelong connections, and I get visitation rights with my kids.”

Whether it’s as simple as a coffee table, or as elaborate as a two-person desk with diamond harlequin inlays and nine different wood grains to replicate the elevator doors of the Chrysler Building that he created for a West Coast music executive, the mantra behind the work is always the same.

“I don’t make museum pieces. I aim to create works you can truly live in. Custom doesn’t need to break banks either,” he said. “I find projects that interest me, and we find the budget that works for everyone.”

Raynal is a relative newcomer to Hilton Head Island, a move made in 2018 after a two-year courting of former New York ad agency executive and long-time islander Jane Stouffer right out of a rom-com script: two strangers meet at a Christmastime 2015 Broadway play, fall in love after her New Year’s flight to Hilton Head is snowed in; a summer together in Paris and a bicoastal love affair leads to Raynal switching coasts en route to an October 2018 Moss Creek wedding.

Raynal lives with Jane in Sea Pines Resort with their two dogs, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday, and officially set up his Hunter Road shop in 2019.

He is an admitted social media neophyte. “My Facebook page still says I’m engaged, and my Instagram is still the starter page,” he said. But he’s slowly making inroads and friendships around the island with a particular focus on philanthropy and mentoring.

“This is a magical place. I’d never been to the Lowcountry before the first time I visited Jane,” he said. “It’s a place you love to leave just so you can come back, fly in over the marshes and inlets, put that kayak in the water again. It’s so inspiring, just where I was meant to be to live this next adventure.”

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