WoCS: How did you get into the furniture business?
PF: My first job in the furniture business was my first summer in college. I spent the summer living with my dad, who had arranged an entry level job at a local construction company. I think his plan was for me to learn the value of an education as a means of avoiding a life of manual labor. Ironically, it was that summer job and not my political science classes that have provided more job training. After college, I moved to Chicago and worked in several different positions within the music industry. This eventually led me to New York to start a music promotion company focusing on sending tour promotion and licensing in Japan. And to help pay my East Village apartment rent, I fell back on my hand skills and took a part time job working for a cabinet maker in Dumbo. Fast forward a couple years and I had grown disillusioned and tired of the music business (mainly being out at a club in Nebraska at 4:00 in the morning) and I knew I needed a second career. By this time, my wife and I were living in a townhouse in Chelsea that we owned and the building had several rental apartments that we were constantly fixing up and repairing DIY in our free time. And it came that I much preferred this work to my day job, so I found an apprenticeship with a cabinetmaking shop in Jersey City. At that stage, I could comprehend a Home Depot fix-it-yourself book, but I knew I needed to hone my skills if I wanted to make this a profession. And from Jersey City, I found work as a shop manager and designer in Greenpoint, which led to a job with furniture maker in Bushwick, which led to another furniture maker in Williamsburg. I was accumulating all this different experience and staying in the shops nights and weekends building personal projects for myself, because none of these shops wanted me to use chisels/hand planes, or pursue Japanese-style joinery. Rightfully so, when you are someone else's dime, my bosses wanted me to build whatever furniture I was assigned as quickly as possible. So learning to make 'slow' furniture (to borrow a phrase from the food industry) was something that was self-taught. A couple years ago, I finally had the resources to open my own shop (after we sold the Manhattan townhouse) and moved to Red Hook.
WoCS: What attracts you to working with wood and what is your favorite type?
WoCS: Where do you get your wood and other materials?
PF: This is the other reason I love working with walnut. All the walnut (and cherry) I use comes from a small family farm in Delaware, so whenever I make a new piece I get to drive two and a half hours south and hand select the walnut from a barn in the woods. I love the opportunity to get out on the road, walk the the woods and finding the lumber direct from the land that the trees had grown up on. I love being able to pass along the story onto clients, saying that I can almost pinpoint the exact location on this earth that their dining table or dresser came from. I had a special project last year where I built a kitchen for a loft renovation here in Red Hook and every single board in the kitchen came from the same tree. It's as if we are able to give the tree a second life. As I type some of this I am coming to the realization the Shel Silverstein book, The Giving Tree, my mother used to read to me when I was little has had a profound influence on my career.
WoCS: We notice on your site that you have a green philosophy. Could you summarize it for our readers?
WoCS: How has this green philosophy served your business? Do you feel that people are drawn to your work because of it?
WoCS: If you could furnish the home of any famous person, who it would be and what would you design for them?
WoCS: You recently participated in the Architectural Digest Home Design Show. Tell us a little about that and what the trade show side of the business is like for a furniture maker.
PF: The trade shows are great for business. It's the best way to introduce your product and have one on one conversations with potential clients. It's one thing to see images of your work on websites and quite another to touch and feel and sit in the furniture. Being that our showroom is in a second story warehouse on a pier out in Red Hook, its not the most accessible place for people to drop by. So the trade shows make it easier for me to reach new clients and run into and see old clients as well. It's nice for me because it provides a different environment than the one of seclusion that I have built for myself out here on the waterfront.
WoCS: What made you choose Red Hook as a location for your business?
WoCS: What about the neighborhood is good for furniture makers and woodworkers in general? There are certainly a good number here.
PF: The zoning regulations certainly help. Manufacturing zones are shrinking all around us, especially over in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. The manufacturing in DUMBO has all but disappeared. Surprisingly, people don't like to live above or next to businesses that run loud machinery. And the lack of subway has helped keep the prices of real estate down. I've worked in a few different neighborhoods and this one is my favorite by far. I've also noticed that there isn't a sense of 'let's change this neighborhood into condos and bars scene'. I think maybe through natural selection that the residents of Red Hook are just cooler about manufacturing in their neighborhood. I can only guess, but I think a large portion of residents live and work in the neighborhood and there is a strong sense of self preservation to keeping the neighborhood the way it is and providing manufacturing jobs for local residents.
WoCS: What are your favorite hangouts in the area?
PF: Fairway! It's so convenient working right next door to the best grocery store in the city. We have lunch there a few times a week. Defonte's makes the best sandwiches hands down. We love the food options on our side of the highway. Hope and Anchor and Fort Defiance are other regular lunch spots. The savory pastries (especially the cauliflower turnover) at Baked are delicious. I love that Calexico opened up in the neighborhood and even more they seem to have a personal connection to the band, Calexico who are one of my favorites. One of these days I want to throw a Calexico themed party with Calexico catering and the band Calexico playing. When we don't feel like cooking, we order delivery regularly from Teeda and Kotobuki. And the Good Fork is great when we have a babysitter. I think the only food we travel across the BQE for is fresh fish from Fish Tails.