My process often starts in the woodpile, when I take in all of the scraps, some deemed useless, and see what speaks to me. Often I am more drawn to those pieces that have flaws, the strange ones whose purpose is not obvious…yet. And this in some ways mirrors exactly who I am, and how I came to create furniture and art.
I’m not a traditional designer. I didn’t study design in college. In fact, I didn’t even graduate from high school. Instead, up until the age of 40, I was touring as a musician and writing music for TV shows and commercials. Art and design were the furthest things from my mind.
But all of that changed after a series of tragic events. My aunt’s Brooklyn apartment was consumed by fire, and she died five weeks later. Then, that same year, my mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, and I became her primary caretaker, living in a world of treatments and rehabilitation. I stopped writing music, as my life became upended, my anchor now fighting for her life.
During this time, there was one place I could go to find some spiritual relief. The Long Island house my wife and I had bought one year before, aiming to fix it up, became my refuge and escape. One day I decided I wanted to do something with my daughter Abby around the house – and came up with the idea of building a bench with her. I didn’t know what I was doing, but there was something so elemental about it, I knew I wanted to learn more and to make more. The next project I took on was building a modern playhouse for Abby in the backyard, and in doing so I realized how much I enjoyed designing as well as building. Now, the wood and nature that surrounded me took on new meaning, and I was started to see everything in a new light. Beyond wood and building, I started learning all about the trees, plants, and flowers and fell in love with landscaping – which is why some of my art involves plants as well.
In this refuge away from the city and treatments, I spent all of my free time transforming our one-acre property. And I realized that not only did I loved working with my hands, but I was also good at it. There was a sense that this was what I was meant to do, which hit me like a ton of bricks. My mother was dying in a terrible way, but then there was this fount of creativity that was helping me get through it, and launching an incredible journey.
Sadly, my mother passed away two years after her sister, in December of 2017. But like the imperfection in wood that makes it uniquely beautiful, this tragedy was also cathartic. The definition of “cathartic” is: “an experience of emotional release and purification, often inspired by or through art.” I can see in retrospect that this is what was happening to me – and I am grateful that my own mother could witness it before she passed. It was only through loss and pain that I was able to tap into deep creativity that I didn’t know existed, and pursue a passion that I had never anticipated, but am grateful for every day.
Furniture makers approach what they do in so many ways. For me, I come to create from a guttural, intuitive level, which honestly is the way I’ve always lived my life. As I finish each piece I’m working on I simply can’t wait for the next piece of wood to see what comes out from inside of it. It hasn’t been an easy journey in any way, but through this process, I know that I am doing what I am meant to do, and there is nothing better than sharing that love for creation with the people who take my work into their homes and give it new life.