Making 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 a 2.5 day woodworking class, the famous Jory Brigham Furniture Design and Woodworking Workshop, 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.
WM: 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 oneself 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.
WM: 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.
WM: 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.
WM: What task seems never-ending?
WM: What does it sound like when you’re alone in your shop?
WM: 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 had?
JB: Festool Domino.
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 expected normality.
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 homing 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 favorite color?
JB: Orange, but real orange, not brownish orange or reddish orange. And peach is not orange!
WM: What super power do you wish you possessed?
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.