All the time the house was rented, I felt that I should be living there. I had countless hours and a lot of money invested in its refurbishment. After all the work and trouble it just seemed wrong not to be able to enjoy the fruits of my labor.
In reality, I was living in a recently and substantially remodeled home across the street. I owned this house jointly with my business partner and had invested a lot of money upgrading the existing woodworking shop.
My business partner and I had taken on a number of custom commissions employing Sid and an intern to help with the work. We were kept very busy. For the most part, we were working seven days a week trying to keep up with and fill all of the commission orders for furniture. We were exhausted. In addition to all this we were building various pieces to use in what was to become our show room in “This Old Crack House”. Our tenant was going to move out in February.
Our Existing shop was small, so we were short on space to begin with. Projects would be at various stages of
progress, such as glue up, rough cut, assembly, or waiting for stain. Or sometimes they were awaiting approval before they could proceed to the next stage. One advantage of having the show room was that it gave us much needed storage space.
I found it so much easier to showcase a project when it was in a natural environment rather than our cluttered shop. It seemed that most clients had a difficult time envisioning their piece of furniture from only a picture or mock up. Time-after-time, the showroom proved itself invaluable in helping sell commissions.
Unfortunately, although I was really enjoying the designing, decorating and displaying process of creating fine furniture, I found the actual work of building the furniture had become drudgery. It was what I feared; that I would lose some of my passion and it would become just a job.
This concerned me. The need to make this a profitable business adventure really affected how I approached each piece and the amount of time I could afford to spend with each commission.
Over the period of the last year, we had become very cost-conscious and efficient. We learned how to be productive without compromising quality. This was no easy task.
Every new project went through a complete review to determine the best and most effective way to bring it to completion. This way, everyone was on board. I also had initiated a bonus process that was based on several things including quality control, finishing the project on time and on or under budget. Because of this, it was essential that everyone was on the same page in order that they were able to contribute to the end result.
Overall, we all had contributed to making this a very efficient and profitable business. I’m still amazed how much I learned and was able to advance my woodworking craft, especially since I was self taught, never having had any formally training.
From the very beginning, one expectation I had for Sid was that he enroll in a local two year woodworking program. We paid his tuition for this program and lent him any tools that were needed. I also required the intern and TJ, my business partner, to take classes that could help them advance their craft.
My rational for requiring this for Sid, an ex-school teacher, was the fact that in addition to him, there were many laid off teachers. It would be a extended period of time before the market was able to adjust and new jobs become available. I also wasn’t sure that building commission would last into the future. I wanted him to be prepared in the event this didn’t work out, or we decided not to pursue this in the future. I felt it would be unfair to him not to provide a fall-back position.
In the end, he chose instead to return to teaching and purse woodworking as a hobby. Regardless of this choice, should it be necessary, he still has excellent training and experience in a craft should he every need an alternative means of earning a living.
As the commissioned pieces were completed, it provided time and cash to build the pieces of furniture I had designed for the showroom. I careful planed each piece. I wanted every piece to be made to the highest standards. They also had to fit into the overall theme of the house. Early on, I discovered that several of the classic pieces that I’d planned weren’t practical. They were simply unfordable for most people.
One of the many design challenges I had to overcome was the narrow halls and low headroom clearance to move pieces up and down stairs. When it came to larger pieces such as armories and bed frames, I was severely limited in the choices of furniture that I could build. One way I solved this was to design and build these pieces in two or more pieces so that they could pass through the limited clearance I had going upstairs or through narrow hallways.
Also, we made two of every piece we built. The prototype was first. Then after it was completed we decided on the changes that we felt would enhance the piece, make it a better design, add to its overall appearance and/or make it simpler to build and more affordable. We would then build the second piece and sell the first one. This strategy turned out to be a great way to test drive, if you will, various designs. And it also made us better overall craftsman. The fact that we were able to sell the prototype made it affordable and practical to do this.
This experience was priceless. Never did “build it and learn” mean as much as it did in these cases.
As time passed, we began to fill the house up with many pieces of furniture. Several of these were still unfinished due to the innovative, but time-consuming Twelve-step Mission Finishing Process that we used. Most of my attention was focused on designing and building the various pieces. At this point, my business partner took on most of the staining responsibility. However, over time he was able to refine the twelve-step mission process and perfect and improve the end result immensely.
To this day we still use this Twelve-step Mission Finishing Process. We continue to receive very favorable feedback on our projects.
I was well aware that our tenants were only temporarily in the house. I knew this going into the arrangement. He already had a closing date on his town house and the basement tenant only planned to remain until the first of the year. Their overall stay would be less than six months. I had to decide what the next step would be. The house was rapidly filling up with various pieces of furniture. I had already begun using it to show samples of various pieces of our work to clients. This showroom had become a tremendous asset in the sales of commissioned work. The showroom provided a natural environment. It helped people visualize the pieces in their own homes. It also made the piece stand out and the overall presentation more effective.
For example, if I was showing a client a Mission chair or rocker I would take them into the library or parlor and serve them tea or coffee and have them sit in all the furniture complete with all the other furnishing such as lamps, end tables, hutches and various other pieces surrounding them. This made it feel like a natural experience. And often, it led to sales of several accessory pieces.
Over time, I not only became aware how valuable the showroom had become but also how it had really had started to growing on me. The showroom had begun to feel like a home because great care had been taken to decorate it like I would my own home. Several of our customers would comment that they would love to live in the house. This got me to thinking about this possibility.
The overhead thus far was being paid because of the tenants’ rents. However, it was becoming more difficult to gain access to the entire house and its furnishing because we still had to work around the one tenant for showing. He was very cooperative but it was still cumbersome. The tenant in the basement would be leaving soon and it was agreed that, when he left, the upstairs tenant would move into the basement apartment until he moved out. At most, this would only be six to eight weeks. By doing this, we would have access to the whole house and begin to finish the period decorating of the rest of the house.
The choice to move into this house was not mine alone because I jointly own this house with my business partner along with our current residence. I had really become attached to the house and had a long and vested history in getting it to this point. When I mentioned or broached the subject of moving into the house, the response from my business partner was always the same. It’s not practical for us two to live in the house because there were no bedrooms on the first floor or a bathroom on the second floor where the three bedrooms were located. The kitchen on the main floor was also very small and not really practical. It was an economic reality that we would have to sell our current home because making two mortgage payments wasn’t viable long-term.
My response to his objections was simple. We had a vacant lot that adjoined the house that no decision had been made on what to do with the vacant lot at this point. My proposal was to build on a new addition to the house that would include a new kitchen, bathroom, family room and new shop.
We had outgrown our existing shop at that point. Although we had spent a considerable amount of money in upgrading the shop it still wasn’t very practical or well suited for building future. We were just barely getting by. It was clear that if we were to continue building custom furniture, something had to change.
Another reality was that house we were utilizing as a showroom was in a residential area and we were really running afoul of the zoning laws. Even though all of our neighbors were very supportive of what we were doing, we were taking a real risk as long as we continued doing so. One complaint to the city could shut us down.
My research into this indicated that we were allowed to have a home business with certain restrictions, as long as we lived in the house. To just use the existing house as a showroom wasn’t allowed and was in violation of local zoning ordinances.
As I saw it, overcoming my business partner’s objections and obtaining his approval to my proposal was simple. First, our existing home had to be sold. Second, we would have to have a new kitchen, bathroom and main floor bedroom. The addition also had to be affordable. Third, the new shop had to be approved by the city.
The only other question he had was, what would we do with the existing showroom?
At the time, my simple answer was, nothing. We would continue to use it as our showroom when necessary to show our clients various pieces the only difference would be we would live in the home.
At that point, he was unsure of this arrangement, but if all the other hurdles were overcome, he would consider this or find another suitable solution.
“No problem! I told him.
I went to work selling the house and designing the new addition.
I was excited about this, but had no clue if I could pull it off, let alone what I would come up with for an affordable design.
If I only knew what lay ahead. Our union had reached a stalemate on contract negotiations, and it appeared that we were headed for a long strike.
What had I got myself into I thought. I really had no clue, but would find out soon what pitfalls and enormous challenges were waiting for me.
Hind sight being genius that said; if I only knew now, what I didn’t know or couldn’t have known then.
Oh the things I get myself into.
When will I learn?
Copyright… all rights reserved D.Jerzak 05/12/07