When Reed Hansuld "got tired of building cabinets and boring things," he began making the contemporary furniture that now has Brooklyn, the internet, and even art galleries swooning.
It seems avoiding boredom has kindled much, if not most, of Reed's inspiration, dating way, way back to the craftsman's high-school days in Ontario. "I stopped going to most of my other classes. They were all the same to me. Woodworking and music were all I really needed," he said. Strapped for options upon graduation, Reed settled on doing basic carpentry work in his hometown. And to his own surprise, he was damn good.
So begins Hansuld's serendipitous path toward maker stardom. We often tag successful, self-made artists as type-A fortune tellers who were somehow born knowing they'd be a designer, an artisan, an entrepreneur. But Hansuld's story is a very human one—it winds, it slows, it pieces together. At 20, Hansuld didn't know what he thought was beautiful. But seven years of experience and life have passed, and now, Hansuld's taste is anything but tentative.
Hansuld's aesthetic began to take shape under the eye of an esteemed furniture maker in Canada. Cast out in the icy boons, he shoveled his way into work every day, clearing pounds of snow with the hopes of becoming a trusted protege. He'd light a wood stove and chisel in the dark for hours under cheerless instruction. Though dicey and temperamental, his mentor had perfected complex techniques that pushed Hansuld out of his comfort zone. Despite his commitment, he struggled to master high style deco, his mentor's forte, and was fired for his "lack of craftsmanship." In an effort to prove his talent to his mentor—and himself—Hansuld enrolled in a comprehensive fellowship in Maine and spent months improving his technique. He decided to stop copying—and start innovating.
"I was trying to perfect my mentor's style," he said, "but then I realized I just didn't like his stuff. I wanted to base my designs on pushing technique." And so, he pushed.
Reed was able to procure free studio space after doing a 9 month comprehensive course. There, he toyed around with his vision and lived rent-free as a barter deal. If you quickly scan Hansuld's collection, you'll notice two predominant trends: curves and straight lines. He's held lengthy obsessions with both, but repetition and sculpture have governed his eye from the start. Getting by while he honed his craft, though, was far from easy.
"I just kind of survived, working for next to nothing around the clock," he said. "I was lucky overall, but there were definitely times when I was living, well, poor."
Upon completing his fellowship and selling enough furniture to rent studio space—at least for a little while—Hansuld moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to open up shop. By this point, Hansuld's signature had fully formed. He begins by sketching each piece by hand. Everything—be it a chair, side table, or desk—aims to reinvent modern pieces while retaining function, class, and a hint of tradition. Reed's work is instantly beautiful, though he has yet to create a piece of furniture he'd use in his own apartment (!). A perfectionist, if you will.
Despite his skill and persistence, Hansuld found that he might have pushed the limit just a little too far. His pieces were always harder than expected to actually execute. After working out the kinks, he's now stabilized, if not thrived, and even moved to a more spacious studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn, not too long ago.
"That feeling of 'I'm a semi-accomplished person' feels really far-fetched when you don't even have money for rent. But now, after years of turmoil, life is pretty good."
It doesn't hurt that Hansuld's in somewhat of a maker haven. If you're an artist trying to get by, Red Hook's where it's at. The neighborhood is filled with artsy Pratt Institute grads, hopeful transplants like Reed himself, and other creatives working hard to turn their passions into profits. They support one another, as a family would.
"The other night, as the bars were dying down at about 2 a.m., a few of my friends and I said, 'Hey, let's go make a kite and go down to the water.' So we just did it. I surround myself with doers, with people who want to live the adventure."
From a high-school woodworking class to now, the maker major league, Hansuld's remained mild-mannered, gracious, and persistent. He's living out the dream he never knew he had, and owning every single second of it.
"A friend once told me, 'You're never going to retire if this is how you make your living.'" Reed scanned his studio and shot us a wry smile. "But you know? Who cares."