The irony is that it was those boards and platters that gave me the confidence to make my own furniture. Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s more like that period was the tipping point that propelled me toward modern furniture. I was consistently having big weekends at the Stockton Market. In one, I made a single $1,200-sale, the best platters I ever made. But the more popular they became, the more of my time they consumed. Toward the end, there were too many days ending in the wee hours carving boards and platters. Compounding the physical fatigue, I was also starting to feel hemmed in. It was hard to see myself doing anything else six months down the road or even six years.
Furniture became the next logical step. Modern furniture, specifically. I’d been making the odd piece on the side before business picked up, so I had a sense of my style and what I could do. The demand for my boards and platters showed me that there was a market for my ideas. And, the prospect of making my own modern furniture felt less like stepping into another room as it did landing in an exotic country on the other side of the world. There are only so many ways to reimagine a cutting board. But furniture’s potential is so vast, you worry more about being overwhelmed by possibility than you do being suffocated by stagnation. That I could apply so many different skills to every concept only heightened that effect. A decade later, that’s the part that I think I’ve come to value most about being a modern furniture designer. Within any given piece, there are tens of details, any one of which threatens to undermine everything if it’s not executed with a meticulous craftsmanship. Every day is a new challenge. Most of them, I greet with a surge of adrenaline. But every once in a while, I question what I’m doing.
For all of my apprenticeships and practical experience, it was the summer I spent working for a clothing designer, more than anything else, that brought me here. It’s one thing to know how to make something, another to know what to make—and to trust your idea. I was 19, and she hired me to help maintain her family’s property. Subtly, but undeniably, she encouraged my eye. In her, I also saw, for the first time, really, someone who built a business from her creativity and all that that entailed.
Over the span of those hot months, an entire world—or, rather, a new, exotic country—began to reveal itself to me. I headed out west in the fall and went to work in a restaurant. The kitchen is where I stayed for a long time. Being a modern furniture designer was barely more than a passing thought at that point. But, all the while, I knew I could do more. I wouldn’t, though, until I reached a tipping point and my hand was forced. I’m fortunate to have confronted a couple of them now, those rare moments when the distraction and the uncertainty fades away and everything short of moving forward decisively feels like retreating.
I was asked recently if this role, as a modern furniture designer, was my final destination. It’s the longest I’ve stuck with anything, the interviewer noted. I hadn’t really thought about it until then, which was probably a kind of answer in and of itself. With everything I’d done before, I may not have known what I wanted to do next, but I knew when my attention, short-lived as it is, was creeping elsewhere. But with modern furniture, even after all this time, I can’t help but feel like I’m just getting started.