For today's Shop Small Saturday Showcase feature, I have an absolutely wonderful shop to share with you today: Brooklyn Butcher Blocks! It was the end of Unique LA, and I was rounding the corner to exit, when I spotted this booth at the end. It absolutely stopped me in my tracks! I was in the midst of my woodworking projects, so I loved absolutely everything that I saw. Then, while talking to Nils about the pieces he works on, it was apparent that he is extremely thoughtful and invested in his craft. You will be able to see exactly what I mean in the interview below!
Not only is this one of the best interviews I have shared with you, in terms of insight into a creative small business owner, Nils is offering one of his gorgeous items as a giveaway. Yes, this gorgeous 12x18x2 End Grain Butcher Block Cutting Board could be showing up on the doorstep of one of you lucky readers! Stay tuned for that at the end of the post, but first check out some wonderful creations by Nils and how it all gets done!
Tell me a little bit about yourself!
I haven't ever received any official training--what I've learned has been from family, from studying and from experience. Not to downplay the importance of the former two, but nothing quite matches experiences. You just got to do it at some point.
Where did the name of your store come from?
Brooklyn Butcher Blocks: While I call myself a maker of wooden kitchenware now, when I first started I was doing butcher blocks (and rest assured that's the gist of our business, despite also making beer mugs, wine racks, magnetic knife racks and tablet/phone docs, and we're about to finish up our first chair) and I live/work in Brooklyn, NY. When I started in 2010, Brooklyn seemed to have opportunities around every corner. I was tentative about calling myself Brooklyn blank, but after some more consideration, I thought that I should name my business after the town that helped me so much creatively and professionally. I considered it an "ode" or something.
Why did you start making goods for Brooklyn Butcher Blocks?
A knife making friend of mine answered me with, "A certain point, I think it's kind of existential. You do it just because that's what you do." I think there's something fundamentally true about that, but I think I'll extrapolate some. Why I work with my hands is existential in this way (I do because I do), but I think I'm interested in kitchenware because of the odd similarities between kitchens and wood shops. Once kitchens are put into a home, that's what they are. You're not going to make it into a bedroom without some serious renovation or an openness to an odd design. Additionally, kitchens are where you do work; you go in to do a specific job. It's much like setting up a wood shop in that way. You want long lasting equipment with a clean, simple, smart design without superfluous gimmicks.
What is your favorite item?
Hm. I like the 12x18x2 End Grain walnut because it's the classic, it's the building block of my business.
I like the brickwork board because it was a way to keep the same consistent design as everything else but it turned it into something different. The pattern was still reflective of function and in fact called attention to its function (the brickwork pattern we use is stronger than your run of the mill checkboard pattern)
I like the iBlock because while it added a gimmick to the product, the addition of the tablet slot was extremely useful--like way more than I ever thought it could be, and I think it was a solid idea from the getgo. Plus it's the first of its kind, I invented it. So not only are we making really function pieces, not just really beautiful pieces, but innovative pieces. I'm proud of that.
I also love the beer mugs. After the iBlock, I thought... "Okay, so how can I make something that's virtually impossible to make? Like a wooden cup." Our prototypes tried to stay true to beermugs of the past, but I decided that if I were making a beermug out of wood, then it should stand out and its design should be consistent with the rest of our lineup. If you wanted a standard beermug, then whynot just buy a standard glass one? It felt like I stripped down what a beermug should be and rebuilt it.
In short, I love everything I make :P
What is your most popular item?
Anything. Made. From. Walnut.
Where do you get the inspiration for your work?
Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn (www.cutbrooklyn.com) is an impressive knife maker who has made a great name for himself making excellent knives in a very competitive city, and more importantly, his morals about what he does are in the right place.
Other knife makers whom I love to follow are Moriah Cowles of Orchard Steel and Sam Densmore of Densmore Knives. They're incredible and have been in business about as long as myself. Sam is a maker, you know? He's always tinkering. I really love that about him and his work. He's an awesome knife maker, but he also made a cast iron coffee mug recently, just for the hell of it. All of his knives are each so different, each with a very different leather sheath. Moriah makes tried and true hand forged knives and it shows. There's just so much visual depth to them--it's like you can see the layers of steel. She's also tough, which I respect. She was in a bouldering accident a year or so ago and had to get her ankle pretty much rebuilt with metal, but she's still in her shop working away.
The woodworker Wharton Esherick is an artist who works with wood and has a great sense for aesthetics. There's this one table he made where it looks like he started making it with half of a plan--deliberately, mind you--so that you could respond to what he had made thus far instead of executing a plan. I don't know if this is how he approached it, but that's just how I can best describe what it looked like he did. And for those that are at all familiar with him, he's incredibly skilled and I'm positive he could plan whatever he'd like. My point is that sometimes not knowing exactly what you're doing is more interesting than plotting out every point. I think this is an important thing to keep in the back of your mind as a creative person, particularly if you have a craft that requires such technique and perfection.
I also pull from other people--one product called the Mintzer is a pun. It sounds like "mince," but is also named after a customer and friend Jonathon Mintzer. Jonathon has been good at introducing me to new things. Saul Brown is a lecturer that I found through meetups, usually circling around meaning, death, life, memory, technology and notions of transcendence. These lectures and the following conversations help keep my focus at work. It helps me get perspective on the business and what its soul, direction is. My uncle and grandfather are also hugely important to me as they pretty much introduced me to woodworking--you can read more of that backstory on our website though.
I pull more from creative people who aren't woodworkers rather than those who are. I always find this lends itself toward conversations about creativity as opposed to technique. While technique is undoubtedly important and we strive for excellent execution, if you lose yourself in that, I think it can lead you astray from the spiritual (for lack of a better word) reason you do what you do.
What makes your store unique?
I think the guiding principle of what we do is this...
We take a product. We strip it down to its bare essentials. We take it to level 11.
Another way I've phrased this is that we try to make the platonic ideal of an object. That's what we're searching for.
What is the toughest part about making your goods/your artistic process?
I think the ultimate thing you have to rectify your creative process with is finances. You're a creative person, but you're now also a business person. It's different than being an artist per se, as artists typically don't live off what they do. When you open your craft to the market, you need to be very aware of your niche and be able to communicate with them through your physical product and through social media/email. You need to respond to them and be very attuned to the conversation you're having with your customer base.
Do you take custom orders?
We do lots and lots of custom orders, particularly countertops. Typically it's a 3-4 week production leadtime. We encourage people to fill out our jotform for all inquires.
Where can I see more of your work and buy a gift?
Website & Blog: www.brooklynbutcherblocks.com
Anything else to add?
I think I've gone on long enough ;)
This is certainly one of the most thoughtful interviews I have shared with you guys, and it was so wonderful to hear all about the unique inspiration behind these creations. Personally, every piece is even more special to know the story behind it.
Now, for the giveaway! This is open internationally to adults 18 years and older. As you know, the prize is an amazing butcher block cutting board, so enter in the widget below and...