About Holton Studio Frame-Makers

Our Mission

 To revive the art and craft of frame-making by restoring its bases
in the art of the joiner, the cabinetmaker, the woodwright;
in the inspiration of nature and its materials;
and in the instincts, imagination and
intelligence of the craftsman.

To design and make frames the best we can.

And so to provide for our customers
and serve the true mission of the arts—

To bring reverence, truth, and beauty to daily life.

Photo of Tim HoltonA professional picture framer since 1975, Tim Holton founded Holton Studio Frame-Makers in 1993 to offer a sound alternative to conventional frame shops: all the frames we make are our own designs and are custom made by hand and from scratch in our workshop. Underlying our design approach is a belief that a picture can only be well framed if it’s in a well made frame — a frame that’s first of all well designed, then well crafted in beautiful solid hardwood. We provide not only a broad array of our own versatile, tried-and-true designs, but unparalleled expertise in “framing to the picture”— offering literally infinite possibilities for unique new designs in perfect harmony with, and alive to, the specific characteristics of each picture.

We are not only a full-fledged custom frame shop but a complete woodworking shop, where expert artisans working with beautiful hardwoods make all the frames by hand, using traditional furniture-making techniques adapted to the particularly refined and precise demands of picture frame-making.

Taking this approach, Holton Studio has revived the venerable Cabinetmakers’ Frame Tradition — the oldest framing tradition and the original way that framing was done. By combining framing design and crafting of frames in one small shop we’ve founded a “new-old” model for custom framing: returning to the older, sounder approach to framing pictures before it became a big business; and by reviving those first principles and revitalizing those deep roots, producing fresh and inventive framing design.

Because the old way was first revived in the 19th century by the Arts and Crafts Movement, we work in the Arts and Crafts tradition, specializing in frames and mirrors for craftsman bungalows and turn-of-the-century pictures and interiors. Our specialties include genuine through mortise-and-tenon frames in quartersawn white oak in the mission oak style.

But embracing the timeless unity of art and craft means our approach transcends particular styles, and breathes new life into picture framing. Simply put, we offer you the opportunity to place your picture in the perfect setting — a setting that will endure in both design and craftsmanship.

Watch the video, “About Holton Studio Frame-Makers”—

Video thanks to Rob Reiter

Tim holton carving

Tim Holton in the early days

HISTORY  After 18 years in picture framing, Timothy Holton (biography) founded Holton Studio Frame-Makers in 1993 in Emeryville, California (in the San Francisco Bay Area, next to Berkeley and Oakland). Originally called Holton Furniture and Frame, its mission was to operate as a designer-maker studio in the tradition of the Arts and Crafts Movement, producing wooden frames, mirrors, lighting and occasional furniture. In 1999 the name of the business was changed to reflect our focus on framing and our expertise in frame-making — Tim’s primary trade. In 2016, the business moved to Berkeley, and a much larger and more accessible retail location.

PEOPLE  Along with Tim, the artisans who make up the Studio are Trevor Davis, Eric Johnson, and Sam Edie; Jessie Dunn-Gilbert is the Business Manager and Gallery Director. While Tim, as owner, gets to have his name on the shingle over the door, Trevor, Eric, Sam, and Jessie are every bit as instrumental to the operation and to producing 600-700 frames a year.

Trevor Davis

Trevor Davis

Trevor Davis joined the studio in the winter of 1998. Raised in Berkeley, in a family of Arts and Crafts enthusiasts — the metal work of his father, Audel Davis, is highly regarded in Arts and Crafts circles — he has brought to Holton Studio enormous creative talent and integrity. A fourth generation Californian and an avid fisherman and backpacker, he spends as much time as he can wandering the landscape of his native state. While Tim’s frame-making time is limited by sales, design and administrative responsibilities, Trevor is in the wood shop full-time continually honing his craft. With a keen eye for paintings and the pictorial arts, his sensibilities are also key to framing design. On top of that, he’s an important contributor to the direction of the gallery.

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson grew up in El Paso, Texas, moving to the Bay Area as a young man in 1997 to pursue music and fine art, and now has a house and family. (His wife, Jenny, is an outstanding pastry chef—something the whole staff benefits from!) He came to work at Holton Studio in 2006, initially handling the finishing chores and shipping. After a two-year hiatus beginning in 2014, he returned in 2016 and is now in the wood shop full-time making frames.

Sam Edie

Sam Edie

Sam Edie, a longtime resident of Oakland, first came to the Studio in 2013 as a temporary hire while on summer break from college, helping us with a big job for the American Museum of Natural History. He enjoyed himself so much that, upon completing his studies in the spring of 2016 and returning to the Bay Area, he asked to come back. Re-joining us just in time for our big relocation from Emeryville to Berkeley, he threw himself in to the build-out and move. After we settled in, Sam assumed Eric’s duties as the primary frame finisher, soon taking on gilding as well. He does all the fitting. And shipping. And photography. And charts production. And, as the youngest and most computer-savvy member of the crew, troubleshoots the website and digital front.

Jessie Dunn-Gilbert

Jessie Dunn-Gilbert

Jessie Dunn-Gilbert is both the gallery director for the Holton Studio Gallery and the office manager for the business. Born into a New York theater family, she’s lived in northern California since she was ten. Jessie was Gallery Director for the esteemed North Point Gallery in San Francisco for over 30 years. There, as assistant to art historian Alfred Harrison, she developed a deep knowledge of and passion for California’s rich painting heritage. Along with our big move from Emeryville to Berkeley, having Jessie join the company was another highlight of Holton Studio’s watershed year 2016.

Our Work

“The frame is the picture’s accompanist: it has to be self-effacing and subordinate to the picture, and yet positively enhance and contribute to its beauty. Accompaniment is an art in itself.” —Timothy Holton

DESIGN  The art of framing begins with designing the right frame for a particular picture. Tim Holton designingFrame designs are developed by using corner samples to establish wood and finish, and size and proportion relative to the matting (where matting is used) and the picture. Samples also help establish the frame design, although because our capacities aren’t limited to the corner samples on hand, they often simply provide the basis for new designs. Our goal is the optimum enhancement of each picture in its individuality and larger architectural surrounding, and a setting that is in every way harmonious with the picture — with respect to line and form, proportion, color, texture and mood. The well-framed picture is in its ideal home and is hard to imagine in any other place but that frame. Above all, our aim is to restore as closely as possible, through the vital link of the picture frame, the fundamental and essential unity of architecture and the pictorial and decorative arts.

Key to our approach is an understanding of framing for the home as fundamentally different from framing for galleries and museums, which we believe have overly influenced how individuals frame pictures to live with. While pictures in commercial galleries and museums are separate and isolated from everyday life, framing pictures for the home affords the opportunity to treat them as accents in a unified and harmonious decorative scheme, integral to and reflective of their meaning for the daily life of the home. To this end, our work bucks the trends of conventional framing which tends variously to either showiness and pretentiousness (the frame as packaging to sell the picture), or the indifferent effect of “gallery” treatments (thin, square frame profiles and white mats), or the “designer” custom frame shop’s fashion-driven clever multi-colored matting and elaborate (but poorly made) constructs from mass-produced molding. Instead, the Studio has returned to a more grounded and basic approach that relies on the simple and direct presentation of pictures in thoughtfully designed, well-crafted hardwood frames.

Picture Framig Magazine

An example of our work on the cover of Picture Framing Magazine and featured as a “Design of the Month” More…

We pride ourselves on taking a timeless approach to design, which to us means, not ignoring frame history, but cultivating a living art by drawing from and adapting the tradition. We have therefore freely drawn upon the abundant and rich heritage of architectural ornament and fine woodworking—the art of the joiner, cabinetmaker, and carver. Those who love early twentieth century decorative arts and the Arts and Crafts Movement have long admired in particular the simple, distinctive quartersawn oak mitered frames of the turn of the last century. When seeking to frame their own pieces, however, they’ve discovered those designs are virtually impossible to find. Our line offers a long-awaited opportunity to choose the right frame for period paintings, prints, drawings, posters, photographs and other frame-able items. Thoughtfully chosen, these frames will richly enhance the pieces they surround as well as the rooms in which they hang.

As evident from looking through A Frame-Maker’s Catalog, in treating the art of framing as a living art form and growing a frame shop from the roots, our designs begin with the simplest forms. Starting with the plain-as-can-be No. 1, which relies entirely on the beauty of the wood and integrity of sound craftsmanship, the designs become incrementally more elaborate and complex, combining moldings and molding profile elements, carving, gilding, and even inlay and painting—all in vital response to the character and significance of the picture. Approached this way, even our most elaborate frames have a firm basis in first principles—function, integrity of materials, workmanship, and suitability—that are the keys to timeless design.

Examples of some work we’re most proud of are on our Portfolio section. Learn more about our complete custom framing service…

Trevor Davis selecting woodFRAME-MAKING  A picture can only be well-framed if it’s in a well-made frame. Holton Studio Frame-Makers is dedicated to the revival of the art and craft of joiners’ frames – the oldest frame tradition, dating back to the Middle Ages and practiced by true woodwrights and cabinetmakers as one of the acknowledged decorative arts. We are exceptional among frame shops today, taking our craft seriously to the degree that every frame we make starts with raw materials — rough-milled beautiful hardwoods — and is executed with tried-and-true furniture-making methods and skills. Perhaps most significant is the Tim carvingextraordinary care and attention we place in our joinery. The corners of our mitered frames are put together with deep splines — triangles of stock perfectly fit and glued in (more…). We also provide lap-joined frames (the “Adirondack” and “Oxford” frames) and true mortise-and-tenon frames, including through-tenon designs. And of course all frames are what are called in the trade closed-corner frames, meaning they’re finished after they’re joined. While there are many fine gilded frames made in this fashion, closed-corner hardwood frames in all but the plainest designs are rare.

Our approach allows for not only the most careful selection of wood and sound construction and finish, but also means the design process is more organic and free, and can be inspired entirely by the needs of the picture and its setting — as it should be. With this approach we return the art of the frame to its basis in beautiful materials, timeless craft traditions, and the design purpose of adapting to the adjacent arts of architecture and pictures, comfortably integrated with them and their role in the everyday life of the home. A humbler tradition of frame-making, cabinetmakers’ frames are an essentially vernacular form, refreshingly both rooted and free, grounded in “simple” tastes but also expressive of the ordinary joy of making things for honorable purpose, making them well, and making them (to borrow William Morris’s phrase) “for beauty’s sake and not for show.”

Quartersawn white oak and other hardwood frames of this quality are rarely available in conventional frame shops, as very few shops have the capacity for the joinery and finishing involved. They are the product of a studio dedicated to the art and craft of fine frame-making.

We stand by our frames absolutely, knowing they are the made the best they can be.

Our Customers

Holton Frames hang in many significant private collections and art galleries, as well as a number of museums, including the Smithsonian, The American Museum of Natural History, The Crocker Art Museum (Sacramento), The St Mary’s College Museum of Art (Moraga, CA), and the Figge Art Museum (Davenport, IA). Several of our frames made for The Hispanic Society of America, New York City, have hung in The Prado in Madrid and Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City as part of the show, “Treasures from the Hispanic Society of America: Visions of the Hispanic World.”

But while it’s an honor to frame for these prestigious clients, our fundamental passion remains framing for the home. We offer our services traditionally, out of our brick-and-mortar retail shop in Berkeley; but in addition, roughly a third of our business is online, serving a far flung national—and increasingly international—market.

TESTIMONIALS  Read what our customers have to say…

Read Tim’s blog post reflecting on Holton Studio on the business’s thirtieth anniversary, here…

Holton Studio company portrait

Company portrait celebrating our thirtieth anniversary. Left to right: Jonathan Wertz, Eric Johnson, Sam Edie (holding Milton), Stephanie McCoy, Tim Holton (holding Barb), Avi Shorer, Trevor Davis, and Jessie Dunn-Gilbert. Big thank you to photographer Nan Phelps.