Jayme Guokas' Craftwork
Jayme Guokas '97 started out with a hobby of teaching himself how to remodel homes on the weekend. He ended up with a fully operational business that designs and constructs interior spaces.
When Haverford’s renovated and expanded library opens in the fall, among the new furnishings will be a pair of 8-foot-long benches made of wood from a tree felled on campus. The striking live-edge oak benches, which will grace a gallery space, are a memento of the oak that once stood near Founders Hall, and, fittingly, they were crafted by a Haverford alum.
Jayme Guokas '97, with his Philadelphia company Craftwork, has become known for his woodworking and design skills, which he brings to unique home renovation projects. His sustainability-minded modern interiors typically feature an eclectic mix of reclaimed materials, custom cabinetry, and counters made of cast concrete—often sporting artfully embedded bits of glass, tile, metal, and even fossils. “I have had people bring me antique gears [to embed in their counters],” says Guokas. “And one time I had a woman who loved horses give me a horseshoe to use.”
An art history major at Haverford, Guokas says he particularly loved the painting, drawing, and photography classes he took. “I learned a lot there. It just took me some time to figure out how to use it.”
After graduation, Guokas spent a few years working at a bookstore, then took a job at the fine arts photography journal The Photo Review, before moving on to an administrative position at the University of the Arts. Along the way, he’d begun renovating an 1890s row house he’d bought in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Then he bought the house next door, and gutted and remodeled that. Eventually, he would purchase and renovate three more houses in the neighborhood.
“I was a weekend warrior,” says Guokas, whose dad was a hobby woodworker and woodturner. “I just kind of learned on the job. To figure out how to do the poured concrete, I watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of books. It’s a specialized skill. I had to fail many times until I was able to fine-tune how to do concrete countertops.”
As his skills grew, people began hiring him to work on their homes, and he turned his side projects into a full-fledged business that operates out of a spacious Kensington workshop, where enormous stacks of reclaimed and locally milled wood await future use. A native of Bucks County, Pa., Guokas counts local woodworker and designer George Nakashima as an influence, along with Arts and Crafts movement leader Henry Mercer, another Bucks County figure, who founded the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works and built a fantastical home out of poured concrete.
Guokas shares a renovated Kensington row house with his wife, Anna-Alexandra Fodde-Reguer, who works as a librarian at Haverford, and their daughter, Lilah, age 2. The residence, which he gutted down to the studs, has some pretty fantastical elements itself, featuring bottle-green concrete counters, a “stream” of river rocks embedded in the kitchen floor, a clever built-in couch, exposed brick walls throughout, and a vivid hand-painted mural of birds and bugs in Lilah’s room. Along with ornate reclaimed interior doors, Guokas used slate tile from a local quarry, and repurposed a galvanized metal tub meant for watering cattle as a shower base. The home has been featured on popular design websites Apartment Therapy and Design Sponge, which described it as “a warm and stylish industrial-modern abode.”
“I like working with my hands and designing things,” says Guokas, who also has won a commission to design and build 31 reading room tables and study carrels for Haverford’s renovated library. “And I really like collaborating with people to make things they can use in their homes—from a piece of furniture to a whole kitchen.”