The Journey Into DesignWoodworking

Flight 787 A Flight Attendants Take On Building Furniture

A Flight Attendants Take On Building FurnitureRecently, I was on a flight from Denver to Portland, Oregon. The flight attendant felt the need to pass the time by striking up a conversation with me. The main topic was what I did for a living. Naturally, I told her I was a furniture maker, and of course, her next question was, what kind of furniture do you make?

I have been asked this question many times, and I never really knew how to answer it. I feel I am still trying to find my style, and I will probably go through several style changes as my career progresses and my interests change. Right now, I have been finding a lot of inspiration in James Krenov’s work. However, I can’t really tell her I build furniture in the Krenov style; I have found that most people outside of the woodworking and design community have never heard of him.

I decided it would be best to tell her I build furniture out of wood; you know, tables, chairs, headboards, hutches, things like that. I thought it would give her a pretty good idea of what I did. Apparently not; her next question made me chuckle. She said, “So, do you go out and cut down your own tree to build it out of?”

Now my mind was racing: do I reference Roy Underhill on the PBS show The WoodWright’s Shop to give her a frame of reference? Probably not. Based on the direction this conversation is going, I doubt she has ever seen his show and knows Roy is famous for his ability to hand hue a log. Then again, maybe this is where she got the notion that to be a furniture maker, you need to cut down your own tree.

Custom Furniture Design and Fabrication by Brian Benham

Then I thought I should tell her that I just buy my boards in the rough and plane them down from there; of course, she may not understand how lumber is milled and sold. It would surely lead to a conversation about how lumber is milled, and I would have to explain the differences between s4s lumber vs. s2s, 4/4, 8/4, 12/4, etc. I just didn’t want to go that deep; after all, this was just idle conversation to pass the time. I really just wanted to get back to listening to the latest Wood Talk podcast I downloaded before leaving.

I simply responded with, “No, I don’t cut the tree down; I just buy the wood.” She responded, “Oh, so you make simple furniture.”

WOW! Now I know she was just trying to be nice and make small talk, so I’m trying not to be insulted, but you know. Cutting Dovetails, doing bent laminations, hand-cut inlays, and the design process in general is easy and takes no time or effort at all. Trying to end the conversation before it turned even ugly, I just said, “Yes, I build simple furniture.”

It always amazes me how many folks outside the craft have no idea about the amount of work we put into making each piece and how many of us view the furniture we build as functional art. Clearly, I need to come up with a better response to “What kind of Furniture do you make?” to portray better what it is I actually do.

If you have any ideas or thoughts on how to explain what kind of furniture you make, leave them in the comments below.

I’m the owner of Benham Design Concepts, a mixed media art studio where I design and build custom furniture and other works of art using wood, glass, stone, and various metals.
In this blog, I talk about the art I create, my journey, and the things I learn along the way.

1 comment

  1. I keep a series of pictures on my phone of stuff I have built. I also keep some “in process” to better explain what I do. Too many people are so concrete and think only of “fine antiques” and Ikea. It gets even harder when to explain when I tell them that I use different woods to highlight different things or to add interest. Too many ask why I do not use paint. So yes, I fully agree with you. Only once people SEE it do they understand.

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