We don’t talk a lot about our story or the realities of our business. Our business is a bit niche. What started as a woodworking business, evolved into a furniture business and has become a sort of amalgam of high-end furnishing, furniture, and things that no one really has a name for, cannot be commercially bought, and few other people are interested in building.
At this time, we have a rotating cast of 5 to 7 people, at any given point of time, all with unique backgrounds and stories. Few of us were born into this. Our fathers or grandfathers were not also trades people that taught us these skills. The things we know, and the things we pursue to know, all come from a desire. A desire not to just know how things are made and built, but to know the steps it takes to make the things that make the things that make the things. We are people curious about details and precision, albeit, some of us more than others.
For me (John), it started simply, as many of these businesses do, by accident. We were renovating my house and my father-in-law began showing me framing and rough carpentry . . . which is to say, Jim said, “hold this” while I watched him build things. From there, I was sort of broken. I realized that things that seemed so mysterious and so difficult, such as carpentry, or renovations, were not beyond me. I learned then, in a visceral way, that most of life is a matter of time and energy. While there are certain things that perhaps our genetics or circumstances will not allow, I firmly believe that most of life is a matter of sheer force of will and a willingness to fail repeatedly.
When we were walking through, Building Value, in Northside . . . and the gent there said, “everything outside is negotiable,” I walked outside with Brittany and determined, inside of 30 seconds, that nothing there was for me. As I turned to walk back inside, I noticed Brittany hovering over something, so I walked over to her. “What do you see?” “I think this could be a kitchen island.” That piece did not become our kitchen island, a different one did. That piece became our dinning room table, and another became the bar in our house, all pieces of reclaimed molds from the CAM-CO site in Northside.
As I posted more and more of those personal furniture photos online, while working in business development, I received more and more positive feedback. At the same time, it did not matter the company I worked for, or how great the bosses or co-workers I had were, I just did not want that reality. I say that, because, if you want something, you work toward it or make any effort to maintain it . . . I always let those things go, at some point. So when one of those situations came to a head and I had the time, I dedicated more effort to posting pictures, doing mock-ups, and created an etsy page.
I still remember the first Christmas. I was building things in my father-in-laws garage (because I don’t have one at my house), and an order, from a nice gentleman in California came through, it was a $250 butcher block. I still remember how amazing that moment felt. I thought, “people actually think the things I make have value” . . . and in some way, that I have value. It was one of the highest moments of personal pride, I have ever had. I also remember my first fine finish table we made. (The "we" at that point in time was my mother-in-law who was recently retired and is a very talented and patient woman). The table was for a friend in Seattle. Sapele mahogany, ash, and purple-heart with mid-century legs. I remember that drive.
Cincinnati, Ohio to Seattle, Washington. By myself. In a 4-Runner with a fine table in the back. I announced the trip on facebook with a map and I said, “If I pass through your town, maybe we can meet up” . . . I was saying goodbye to my wife, at her office, when my phone rang. It was my Uncle James saying that if I wanted to crash at his house, I could. I arrived in Minneapolis around 10-11 o’clock that night. That drive was amazing. Every single mile of that drive was a personal revelation in some form or the other. I was listening to The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (politics aside, writing style aside) the book tells a story of a man who would not compromise and was determined to shape the world around him. There are books that find you at the right time . . . that is one of mine.
That entire drive, those thousands of miles across plains and mountains through Colorado and, the Dakotas ,Washington state, and all of the beauty in between, I was working through this idea, “should this be a real business or should I work for other people.” I drove 15-18 hours a day and often slept in my car. Not because I had to, not because I could not afford a hotel, but because there is something about putting your car in park in a lot, in the middle the absolute blackness of night, and, waking up to the sun and the mountains surrounding you. You cannot replicate the way that feels, but to be there, in that moment, on your own. You feel that the world is being laid out just for you.
The drive continued on and I cannot remember, for the life of me, if it was on the way out or on the way back, but a friend from high-school, Chrissy and her husband Nate, let me crash at their house in Spokane. But I was there, and they are a part of the story. Their willingness to let me stay there was one of the first, but certainly not the last, examples of the generosity I have experienced in starting this business. People are better than you think. People will help you more than you think. You learn to trust people again.
When I finally arrived in Seattle, I was exhausted, tired, slap-happy and excited to finally have a few days to sleep. Aj and I unloaded the table, brought it up the elevator, and put it in his apartment. Aj took some quick shots of it and showed me how it looked with the space needle in the background, that was another moment of personal revelation too. We went out to eat. I had a manhattan and two beers. I slept for 18 hours. I binge watched Narco’s and I starred at that table, in that space, a lot. It was the first time I built something for a space and delivered it and experienced the way that custom things can just “click” into a space . . .. It felt bigger than just making something. It felt personal. It felt like an extension of myself.
I took full-advantage of Aj’s offer to crash on his couch as long as I wanted . . . I have a fondness for Seattle and I did not want to make the drive back. I want to say I was there for more than 7, but less than 12 days. Eventually, after exploring every other option, but driving back, I got in the car. The drive back was a different book, “The Martian” . . . also a good book for other reasons, but the long drive back wasn’t about whether or not am I going to do this as a business, but the question became, how am I going to grow this as a business.