Mike Prieto, owner of Barrel-Art, opened his rustic workshop in Norfolk in the spring of 2013 and has been creating exquisite pieces ever since. He is one of the few artisans in the country creating handcrafted furniture exclusively from wine barrels. Prieto is constantly coming up with innovative ideas. Today, he has more than 50 products in his portfolio ranging from riddling racks imported from Champagne to bar stools to cozy dog beds and custom-made Adirondack chairs.
But, artistry and craftsmanship weren’t always in Prieto’s blood. On a recent visit to his workshop off of Lance Road in Norfolk, he grinned and told me, “It’s kind of ironic, because I think I failed art class as a kid.”
You see, the idea for Barrel-Art was not born out of a long-time hobby and passion; it was born out of necessity. Prieto and his wife lost everything in a fire a few years ago. Prieto’s wife Kambra is active duty Navy. When she was transferred to Germany in 2010, they were living in temporary housing waiting for a place to call home. During this time, the warehouse that stored the belongings of more than 100 military families, including theirs, burned to the ground.
Since Prieto was still searching for a job, his wife suggested he should learn how to make furniture, since there was a woodshop on base. He studied under a master craftsman in Germany and was soon creating bed frames and other pieces of furniture to replace items that were lost in the fire.
After a few trips to some of the world-class wineries and tasting rooms in Germany, Italy and France, Prieto started experimenting with wine barrels. Some friends in Germany took quite an interest in his early creations and Prieto quickly realized he was on to something. Before moving back to the states, he finished his business degree and starting securing contacts in Europe to ensure he would be able to purchase top quality barrels once he moved home.
After two and a half years of working seven days a week to build this business, Prieto was finally able to take his first paycheck this month. He also recently landed a couple of big accounts. He is making the bourbon flights for Marriott’s Bourbon Program and penned a deal with a restaurant at Walt Disney World for his handcrafted sushi trays.
When asked about his favorite piece, Prieto talked about an order of barrels he got from Dreaming Tree Winery in California, owned by Dave Mathews. Prieto is a huge Dave Matthews fan and quickly went to work creating a custom Adirondack chair out of those barrels for the singer. He delivered the chair to Matthews’ Charlottesville winery, Bleinheim Vineyards, and is hopeful one day get a picture of Matthews sitting in his chair.
It’s certainly been a labor of love for Prieto. A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into this business and it looks like all that hard work is finally starting to pay off for this local artisan. So the next time you flip through one of those furniture catalogues or think about purchasing wine furniture that may not even be made from authentic barrels, think of your local artisan, Mike Prieto and buy local.
Prieto offers complimentary delivery services throughout Hampton Roads and Richmond. He also ships across the country and internationally.