As a custom furniture designer on the North Shore, Rohan Ward has had his share of discerning and distinguished clients.
But when Ward, 37, was hired to create a table for President Obama to present to French President Francois Hollande, the Wilmette resident said he was a bit intimidated by the task.
"I had a job list with clients who were depending on me to deliver their orders, but when your phone rings and they ask if you're interested in building a table for the President of the United States, you're going to say 'yes,'" Ward said. "I only had about four to five weeks, but I ended up working on the table for about 350 hours."
Obama presented the custom-designed table to Hollande as a gift during his state visit last week.
As designed and built by Ward in his Wilmette studio, the table includes wood from a fallen oak tree at Mount Vernon, the Virginia home of President George Washington. The table also features a replica of a key to the Bastille given to Washington in 1790 by the Marquis de Lafayette.
The replica key, which is featured in the center of the table and is visible through glass, was created by a blacksmith at Mount Vernon and forged from reclaimed iron from the Statue of Liberty, Ward said, with the original key to the Bastille remaining at Mount Vernon.
Ward said he was not hired for the job until officials in Washington had the opportunity to review his ideas for the table's design. He said the table is reflective both of an 18th century Federalist style and Ward's own elements and design details.
Ward said he initially hoped to prove he was the right artist for the job by mailing a package to the State Department holding not only his sketch of the table, but a miniature replica, too.
"I got a phone call, and they told me, 'The president loves the model of your table, and he has it on his desk in the Oval Office,'" Ward said. "They gave me the specifics of what they wanted, and by early January, I started ordering the wood."
In addition to using wood from a fallen oak at Mount Vernon, Ward incorporated other hardwoods native to the U.S., including cherry and walnut, all of which were crafted into a sunburst design, which he said pays homage to Point Zero at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
By early February, Ward's table for Hollande was completed, yet one more step remained – delivering it safely to the White House.
Packed in a 40" by 40" cube, the parcel did not fit into any of Ward's own cars, and hence, he rented a van, from which he and his wife, Vanessa, embarked on a road trip on Feb. 7, headed to Washington.
Despite a few terrifying moments when a police dog checking out the van's arrival placed its front paws on the parcel to get a better sniff, Ward said the table arrived safe and sound in Washington.
Ward said the next few days were a whirlwind.
"We didn't think we'd recognize anyone at the State Department lunch we were invited to, but when we got to the cocktail hour, there was Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright," he said.
A native of Sydney, Australia, and the son of two artists, Ward said he spent he spent his childhood summers at the family's beach home on the country's eastern coastline, where he collected driftwood that he would transform into works of art.
After graduating from the Australian National University's Canberra School of Art, where he studied Woodworking and Furniture Design, Ward began his own custom furniture business in Australia's capital of Canberra, and today, is the owner of Rohan Ward Designs in downtown Wilmette.
While he did not have an opportunity to meet Obama during his recent trip to Washington, Ward said he was delighted to have a chance to chat with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry.
He was also excited to learn that back in his homeland, officials had learned of his accomplishment.
"They were excited to hear that an Australian who had made it over to the U.S. was asked to build a table for the president," Ward said.