Design Nomad

A little over six weeks ago, I arrived in Chicago driving the remainder of a '98 Corolla. Hitched, improbably, to the back, was a trailer containing what little my girlfriend and I own.

God bless the 'rolla.
This is my seventh move in five years. I've studied architecture in Virginia; poured concrete in Arizona; built cabinets in Baltimore; studied more architecture in the rural south; and taught youth carpentry in Alabama. Along the way, I've designed and built houses, furniture, and landscapes.

Some of this nomadism has been motivated by my own wanderlust, and some motivated by the vagaries of the Great Recession. The economy has been down since I got out of school, and architecture, tied as it is to credit and real estate, has had a particularly hard time recovering. I've tried to see the economic uncertainty as an opportunity, exploiting the gaps in traditional design practice and going off-the-grid, into the world of guerilla design.

Chicago has been great (a little warm, even after Alabama), and I've met a lot of wonderful folks in a very short time. As I put down some roots and look around for work, I've had a chance to explore a lot of great programs, non-profits, and firms. On the thirtieth, I started volunteering at ReBuilding Exchange, an architectural salvage warehouse, jobs training program, and furniture workshop.

The ReBuilding Exchange.

One of the programs under the RX umbrella provides job training in building demolition and furniture construction for ex-offenders. They've started a furniture line, called RX Made, to sell the work made in their wood shop. I got in touch with them the other week, and they have me coming in twice a week to prototype some new furniture designs for them.

The RX wood shop.
Yesterday, I got in early and got to work on some sketches. Their current bench design is simply, sturdy, and straightforward. To keep it simple for beginning woodworkers, the benches need to keep complicated joinery and angles to a minimum. To keep the price point for production, construction time needs to be minimized. And, to keep with their over-all aesthetic and material resources, it needs to be made of salvaged 2" x 10" joists.

I made three simple prototypes in a day and a half: one with slanted legs and lag-bolt joinery; one where the legs were dado-ed into the top; and one where the top was dado-ed into the legs. It was great to be back in a shop, re-earning my callouses, and messing around with some tools.  Stay tuned for the Instructable . . .

The holy bench trinity.

Gettin' my slant on.