What it means to be a man in our culture is in a continual state of flux, though it does appear to remain, as Norman Mailer once said, “not something given to you, but something you gain.” Ever since the first Neanderthal grabbed his club and headed out in search of meat, men have been leaving the comfort and safety of the home in pursuit of sustenance in one form or another. Where once this may have been food, it has evolved to encompass the kind of challenging adventures that allow a man to face—and conquer—his deepest fears and vulnerabilities. To climb that mountain, to ford that stream, is truly to become a master of the universe.
Peter Buchanan-Smith bears little resemblance to a Neanderthal, though he is a man of relatively few words. When he does wax poetic, it is never in service of his own accomplishments, which include things like winning a Grammy for designing the album cover of Wilco’s “A Ghost is Born” and founding a successful business that has become the thinking man’s go-to brand for functional, beautifully designed outdoor gear. After a 15-year career in graphic design, including stints as creative director of Paper Magazine and design director for Isaac Mizrahi, Buchanan-Smith launched Best Made Company in 2009 with a collection of hand-painted axes. Despite being built to split actual logs, they tapped into something primal in urban men, who seem to crave a connection with the wilderness.
We empower people to get outside, reconnect with their hands and nature, and in doing so, embark on a life of great adventure, says Best Made’s website. It’s an ethos born out of the real passions and lifestyle of its founder.
Buchanan-Smith grew up on a farm in Southern Ontario and has put in time baling hay and planting trees. Though now firmly rooted in New York City, he loves to get lost in the great outdoors, often in the company of rugged companions like C.W. “Butch” Welch aka Cee Dub, a former game warden who literally wrote the book on campfire cooking, or Craig Buckbee, a legendary Catskills fly fisherman. Their adventures in places like the Yukon, a remote island in Patagonia and the Scottish Highlands turn Buchanan-Smith’s business into pure pleasure. His girlfriend of several years, Meagan Bennett, a children’s book designer, occasionally accompanies him, but these trips are largely men-only. (As a personal friend, I often give Buchanan-Smith guff for not making the brand more inclusive. His typically evasive response? “Women’s clothes are so hard to make!”) It undoubtedly has more to do with age-old traditions of male bonding than rank chauvinism, but the times they are a-changing.
In 2014, Peter Buchanan-Smith purchased a small cabin perched on a rocky outcrop high above Andes in Delaware County. A big picture window (Meagan broke the original one doing a yoga handstand) looks out over 700,000 magnificent acres of Catskill State Park. On the deck is a wood-burning stove and a grill for the kind of rustic outdoor cooking at which he excels. Inside, another wood-burning stove has pride of place, this one a super-engineered Danish design that rotates 360-degrees so you can aim its blast of heat at will. From the rafters hang several Wide Ruins Navajo rugs purchased by his parents on a 1960s road trip through New Mexico. These are among few additions Buchanan-Smith has made to the cabin—“a constant work in progress”—which retains much of what the previous owner left behind, including many of the furnishings and all the taxidermy.
Once ensconced on the mountain, Buchanan-Smith rarely leaves, other than to go fly-fishing around Roscoe or to enjoy the occasional dinner at Brushland Eating House in Bovina Center. There are plenty of fires, slow-cooked briskets and whiskey-soaked evenings, many of which end in the white cedar hot tub. He spends most of his time upstate “manscaping”—cutting wood, clearing brush and generally keeping nature at bay. Sergeant “Sarge” Nibbles, his trusty Norwich terrier, is usually by his side. To get around the property, there is a 1961 Mercedes Unimog, the ultimate all-terrain military vehicle with an efficient design so beautiful it is in the collection at MoMA. Buchanan-Smith is certain to take it where no man has gone before.