A Turning Point
I was not building furniture full time when I made this orange coffee table, repurposing the hood of a 1972 Chevrolet Pickup truck as the table top. I didn’t know it at the time what an impact this table or project would eventually have on me. I was working full time as the lead pre-press operator at a commercial sheetfed printing company in Dallas, Texas (Deep Ellum) and tinkering on furniture in the evenings.
As far as I know, I was the first person to pull, cut, bend, clean and clear coat this type of colorful metal and present it this way for use as furniture. I have seen “car furniture” before and it is for sure NOT my style. I want my furniture to, first and foremost, be a timeless, modern piece of furniture. The fact it has automotive roots is of a secondary importance. I appreciate the fact that this metal is automotive (I’m a car guy), that it is a recycled material and that the patina actually took decades to develop. Alot of my tables have a documentable, previously driven, history through the DMV via their VIN number issued to the donor vehicle at the factory.
I had zero expectations when I started welding. In printing, I was a creative type with my mouse and computer, designing anything from catalogs to annual reports, but working with metal was a way for me to do something creative with my hands. At the time, I was living in an apartment on White Rock Lake in Dallas that happened to have a 2 car garage as the first floor, with the kitchen and bedrooms occupying the second and third story. I bought a 120v welder as a new years resolution with the intention of building something. I would come home for lunch when my neighbors were at work and I’d make all the loud and messy cuts with my $79 chop saw then, later on at night, I would weld. This was probably totally illegal but this is how I learned to weld, working off the floor with a cheap welder, a corded drill, grinder and chop saw. This was a time before Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest to thieve ideas or draw “inspiration”. I was just tinkering and making stuff up as I went along, it was totally honest and organic.
My boss at the time, who was the owner of the printing company, was a very early supporter of my creations. We’d hang out after work and, within a few beers time, he’d encourage me with a profanity laced critique of what I just finished that went something like, “…that is fucking awesome!!!”. It wasn’t just one liners either, he would go on an on getting increasingly “enthusiastic” as we worked and drank. It was comical but I really did appreciated his feedback. He eventually gave me a small space in one of his warehouses, rent free, to continue to tinker. He kept his artwork there and worked on paintings of his own in the same space. It was an invaluable time of welding incubation for me, being able to practice and try new things with metal without any judgement or, especially, overhead.
As the years rolled on, I remained in my bubble of the day job and a mountain bike hobby. However, my metal work had got better and had gained some momentum. Through a series of circumstances that I will write about in another BLOG post, the automotive metal was getting better and taking off. As cool as I thought it was, I considered myself a total rookie welder and I lacked confidence. Still without the internet or exposure to any outside influences, I had no idea that furniture making (wood, upholstery, leather, metal, stone) was an actual trade and a worthy endeavor. Printed information on paper was being replaced, and rapidly replaced, by everything being online. I knew my days in printing were numbered as the industry was changing. I wasn’t sure I wanted to change with it after 20 years. I was there when the MAC, Quark Express and Adobe took over traditional art boards/paste-up. Besides, I was liking building things, wearing jeans and steel toe boots instead of dress clothes. My dad and grandfather were both admen / printers but I was open to a change more than ever. I was thinking I’d like to try my hand at this furniture thing.
My personal situation continued to evolve over time as well with a girlfriend, then wife and babies. Professionally I had to do something. It was time, I knew printing was not the occupation of the future to provide for my new family but quitting a full time job was scary. I was terrified of being self employed. My dad tried being self employment and he ultimately crashed and burned. I swore I would never do that to myself or my family. But there was not enough hours in the day, I was busy building furniture, burning the candle at both ends. That was about that time I received photos of this orange coffee table.
I had built this orange table a year prior but it had been in storage awaiting completion of this new home. I received these exact photos in my email one day. I was speechless. They were phenomenal photos. Not like the photos I took with my flip phone. The home was absolutely gorgeous. The modern design and industrial materials are exactly what I would want for myself if I had won the lottery and could build anything I wanted. It was in that moment that I saw my work in a new light. My work belonged and fit right into a space like that. I will never forget seeing those images for the first time, I was changed instantly. I had confidence in myself for the first time as a furniture designer. It was the release I needed to let go of printing and go full time building furniture.
I have had this same orange coffee table photo as the home-page of every website version since then. Looking back, there is alot wrong with that particular coffee table from a fabrication standpoint. Most notably, in these photos, is the mix-matched welded seams on the two legs. I have built many cool things for very cool places since this table but seeing this group of images below for the first time was a defining moment in my life.
My emotions still run the gamut when I see my designs stolen and passed off as originals by other people. Seems these days everyone with a beard, flannel shirt, MIG machine and an internet connection is a furniture maker. But I am comfortable with my craft to the point that I am just going to push harder to do better. This is a big world and there is room for everyone. I am regularly inspired by people I see and meet. People who take the simplest of materials and do things I could only dream of. There are so many, truly talented people out there that I really just need to work on myself and not worry about what other people are doing … the same advice I hear myself giving my 5 and 6 year old. Infact, I recall receiving that same admonition from my father when I was a kid.
My kids are growing up and I am about a month out from having my divorce finalized. I moved to Arizona with everything I own, shop and home, in a borrowed 28′ enclosed trailer 7 years ago this month. I was an unemployed newlywed with a 6 month old baby and one-on-the-way heading west. I was scared to death with my whole life hanging in the balance. I experienced what my dad must have felt all those many years prior striking out on his own. While I was mentally preoccupied with just surviving that first year(s), I had big dreams and the confidence of this orange table ringing in my head. I knew I could do it. I don’t know what this journey will bring my way next but I am looking forward to it. Thank you Amity for this orange coffee table and these photos, they changed my life.
I hope to continue to tell my story through this blog. I want to get to know other makers and share their personal and professional stories, because they are often one in the same. We take our work personally. Please leave your comments below and share this BLOG post with people who you know are makers. Email me if you’d like to be a guest blogger here at Weld House. -Joel