Custom Woodworking

Bryan is a perfect example of a master craftsman at work in his element. In school he was "not an academic guru by any means", but excelled far beyond his peers in working with objects and drawing. A good shop teacher stoked the fire that had been first lit by his family. His story reinforces to familiar adages: 1) Education begins at home 2) Love what you do.

How did you get into your craft?

The Beginning

custom woodworker7th grade shop class. My grandfather was a craftsman - a master furniture maker and a metal worker. He was originally from Poland and immigrated to Rochester, NY. My father is very good at art as a photographer, and I have uncles that are famous painters. So I kind of had the talent in my family on that side. In 7th grade I took shop class, and man it just clicked with me. We were sitting in shop class, and one of the things we had to do was mechanical drawing as a segment of class. My father had already taught me mechanical drawing in 2nd or 3rd grade. So I’m sitting in class and he gives us this object, trying to teach us how to draw the side elevation, the top view, and the isometric view. I sat down and drew the object, then continued at my drawing board sketching. The instructor walked around behind me and bent down to say, “Where’d you learn how to do that?” I had learned that at home. so I was ahead already in shop class, and it came naturally to me. I’m good at just looking at something and then making it. My brain can see in three dimensions from a drawing.

The Frustration

I had started in Texas but we moved to Florida, and in the 10th grade I had shop class with the worst instructor I ever encountered. We didn’t learn anything the whole semester, didn’t even get to touch tools. I got discouraged and just quit, changed to art class the rest of that semester. Then we moved to Alabama and the school had an Ag department with a shop, but nobody to teach it! So I didn’t get anymore instruction at that time. After high school, I went to technical college. I took drafting, mechanical drawing and all that, and got really good at it, but realized I didn’t want to do that my whole life.

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The Job

So I went into construction. On the side I was always building something. I was either putting models together as a hobby, or I was building or making something. I stayed in construction, and had my own company when I was 28. That ran for about 3 years before I had to close it up and go work for another company. I was working in north Alabama for Morton Buildings and they asked me to open an office in Mississippi, which I did. In 1999 I was kind of getting tired of it, and I said, “I want to do something again that jazzes me, something that makes me feel excited.” My wife and I were watching a show called Modern Masters, I think it was on HGTV, and there was a guy doing what I’m doing now. It just clicked. I looked at my wife and said, "That’s what I want to do”. She said, “If that’s what you want to do, DO IT.". The Decision

The next day I went out and cleaned out the garage and got started. I had just a few pieces of equipment. I had been studying the work of a guy named Sam Maloof for a while. I really wanted to try to bite off one of those nice rocking chairs he built. So I built one and I took it to show to anybody, any decorator, any architect who would sit still long enough to look at it. That’s how this whole thing kind of got going. 
I met a lady Lisa Palmer who owns Summer House, and she saw my talent and said “What all can you make?” I was a little bit overconfident and said “Whatever you want is what I’ll make”. I’m just one of these people who learn very quick, so I just started making things for her. People saw it, including other decorators, and work began coming in from every angle.

The Big Break

Then in 2004 Laurie Smith from Trading Spaces called me up and said “Hey I’ve seen your furniture, I love what you do. Would you be interested in making a couple pieces for my house? It’s going to be the subject of a coffee table book." So I thought that was good free advertising and said Sure. I met with her and we clicked, and I ended up building 14 pieces for her. The book got published and went out nationwide, and that’s when I kind of knew I was at a turning point.

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The Growth

The calls just came flooding in, it was ridiculous. At that point I realized I needed a bigger place to work. The garage was 1000 square feet, but just wasn’t enough. So we came down the hill, we live on 20 acres, and I built a 5000 square foot shop. Man it just took off like a rocket. Had to manage something growing faster than I was prepared for.

What is your favorite part of a work day?

That has changed dramatically over time. Used to my favorite part was just getting started on whatever project I was on. I loved the fact that every project was different. We hardly ever built the same piece twice. I enjoy getting to use a different type of wood each time.

That changed, as now I have three guys that work for me. I trained each one of them on how to do this. I do more management than work now. I go out and get the project, draw them up, negotiate with the client, order all the materials, then coach the guys on how it needs made. That’s kind of how it works now.

I love the challenge of progressing forward. I still get in the shop and help out and work. Especially when we start doing something they’ve never done before, I get out and walk through it to show them how it’s done. If work in the office slows down, I go out and work in the shop, and that’s the most fun day I have that week.

What would you say to a young person who wants to do what you do?

First, there’s one thing I’ve noticed when hiring guys: You have to love what you’re doing. Don’t ever go into a profession because you think that’s where you’re going to make a lot of money. That’s a big mistake, and something my father drilled into my head. Never do something just for money. Do it because you love it and because you’re good at it. He always said the money will follow if you do that, and he was completely correct.

If you really love something you’re going to learn everything about it because it’s got to come out of you. That’s what they do not teach in school. I was not an academic guru by any means in school. But man I could figure things out, I could dissect things, I could draw. That’s my talent! They’re not seeking out and cultivating the individual talent of that person. So when I have a guy come in and I interview them, the first thing I want to see is do their eyes light up when they get around this. If they don’t, they’re not my person. Every guy working here just can’t get enough of it. Sometimes I have to go out at 5:30 and say “it’s quitting time, go home”.

custom woodworking

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