Profiles: Jory Brigham - Full InterviewComments (0)
modern furniture, with nostalgic aspirations
West Coast furniture maker and woodworking teacher, Jory Brigham, has a modern take on nostalgia. He designs pieces with mid-century flair and the idea that furniture should last. And Jory believes that anyone can find their individual style. You just need to do two things: Work with your hands and don’t let adulthood erase the creativity, curiosity, and energy you have as a child. Although he grew up in a family full of craftsmen, Jory still managed to cut a swath all his own, creating an impressive variety of furniture collections that have attracted clients from all over the country. Remarkably, Jory also finds time to teach woodworking classes at his Paso Robles, California, workshop. I had the opportunity to visit with Jory, and meet his wife Alison, daughter Parker, son Bozley, and a menagerie of pets that include snakes, chickens, lizards and other critters. Here are some highlights…
– Lori Harper
Profile photo credit: Christa Renee
WM: Three words to describe Jory Brigham.
JB: Stubborn, driven, and…difficult.
Describe your design aesthetic to someone who’s never seen your work.
JB: Well, I can only tell you what I would hope it is. I hope my designs stir emotion. Whether it be curiosity, comfort, happiness, or my favorite, nostalgia. I try to include different styles, eras, and even cultures into my pieces. I love to hear people say that my designs remind them of their grandparents’ furniture. That was back in the day when people bought furniture with an intent to hand it down to their children. They weren’t scared to invest in something that would be a part of their family for generations.
WM: What’s the one thing you wish people knew about making furniture?
JB: How much of one’s self can go into a piece of furniture made on a CNC machine or by a robot? If you truly love woodworking, part of your soul goes into every piece you make. There are so many different approaches to furniture making. Everybody does it differently. That’s how you get one-of-a-kind creations.
Furniture images by: Ron Bez Photography
WM: What makes working with your hands so satisfying?
JB: That is a deeper question than
I am capable of answering. I can only say that it is fulfilling to create a
tangible piece that affects the people around us. Working with your hands can
be an opportunity to create something unique from your whole being – physically,
mentally, and emotionally. That’s rare these days.
What’re the best and worst things about teaching woodworking classes?
JB: The best thing is the people we meet. And I love the different ways that the class impacts my students and gets them creating. Getting people to think in a non-conventional way is so cool. The worst thing is the huge mess that we make in class.
WM: What kind of people take your class?
JB: We get men and women, ranging
in age from 17-70. Some students are
cabinetmakers looking to learn new techniques, while others are just getting
started as woodworkers. We also get a lot of people from Silicon
Valley—computer engineers and computer programmers. I never knew there was such
a correlation between that kind of work and woodworking.
What advice would you give your younger self?
JB: Don’t be in a hurry to think
like an adult. Thinking like an adult can kill your imagination and slow your
growth as a designer and craftsman. And you may garner the wrong lessons from
otherwise helpful experiences. The thing that saved me is that I took forever
to act like an adult. I still have trouble recognizing things I should be
afraid of. And it takes me far too long to learn my lesson. Being naive and
stubborn kept me thinking that someday I would do what I loved, even though I
didn’t know how to get there. If I had known how hard it was going to be to
make it as a professional woodworker, I may have just quit.
What task seems never-ending?
What does it sound like when you’re alone in your shop?
What is one thing you allow yourself to spend money on?
More Q&A from Jory…
IN THE WORKSHOP
WM: What’s the last gift you made for someone?
JB: A rocking chair. It’s for one of my favorite
people. He’s taken the majority of the photos on my website and never charged
me a penny.
WM: What’s the most
off-the-wall thing you’ve ever made?
JB: A sink I carved out of a serpentine boulder.
WM: What’s your pet
peeve when people are in your workshop?
JB: Not having the capability to put their phones down
and leave social media alone for 2.5 days.
WM: If you were
stranded on a dessert island, what is the one woodworking tool you wish you
WM: Hand tools vs. power tools. Discuss.
JB: That’s a dicey topic. For me it’s a combination. If the actual process is what drives you to woodworking, hand tools will probably be the most fulfilling. If the end product and the design most interest you, then working with power tools is less time consuming and less limiting (sometimes). If you’re looking for growth then don’t be scared to give every tool a try and find out what thrills you the most with the right amount of challenge, and the finished product that you’re most proud of.
WM: Your wife plays a big part in the success of your business. What makes her such a rock star?
JB: She is good at so many things I am not. She is one
of the most likable people I have ever met. She makes people feel warm and
fuzzy right off the bat. I tend to do the opposite.
WM: What’s one thing you do that drives Ali nuts?
JB: I appreciate that you think that there’s only one
thing. Let’s say the biggest thing, which is my inability to shut my brain down
a notch. I’m always thinking about designs and how to make them. I think she feels
like she has to compete with that.
WM: Are your kids
original thinkers like you?
JB: I sure hope so! I think the hard part is keeping
them original thinkers. I think most people are born somewhat original but
between schools, TV and the people around them, they’re likely to stoop to an
WM: How would your
parents describe you?
JB: As a brat. I think my mom just called me that last week.
WM: What’s with the
“no TV” rule?
JB: This is something I feel strongly about for my life and for my family. I think television is the root of so many social and personal issues. It kills creativity, and never forces kids to think outside the box like ultimate boredom does. Especially for kids at a very young age whose minds are like sponges and developing at amazing rate. I know as a kid I spent all my time in the garage making things. I see my own children acquiring talents and honing in on their gifts at an age when it’s so important to do so.
WM: What’s the best
question anyone ever asked you in an interview?
JB: What’s with the “no TV” rule?
WM: What’s a good day look like to you?
JB: Going on a run, or a surf if I’m real lucky. Leaving
my phone down at the house by accident, and working in the shop for 12-16 hours
with a few breaks in between to spend time with the family (one of the best
perks about working where I also live). Working until the time people stop
calling and emailing and you truly feel alone.
WM: What’s your
JB: Orange, but real orange, not brownish orange or
reddish orange. And peach is not orange!
WM: What super power do you wish
JB: To never get sleepy.
WM: What do you eat for breakfast?
JB: Almost always eggs. We have chickens so I don’t
want to insult them.
WM: What was your
first thought when you woke up this morning?
JB: I was actually wondering what my dog was licking
right before she started licking my face.
You can also learn how to build a handcrafted chair in Jory's video series right here exclusively on Woodcraft.com.
We hope you’ll be inspired!
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