The recent Brendan Carpenter interview with the Greenville News portrays Brendan’s background and his vision.
The text of the written article by Michael Burns of the Greenville News is shown below:
The simple, modest chest of drawers was mass-produced about 50 years ago. Its value isn’t economic.
A grandmother once gave it to her daughter, and now she wants her granddaughter to have it, bearing refinished beauty for new life.
It’s similar to the man who’ll give it rebirth.
Greer’s Brendan Carpenter spent one professional existence in the world of finance, an accountant who left the Marines to graduate from East Carolina University and help start loan and credit companies from Colorado and Texas to Tennessee.
A crossroads came about six years ago for the native of Travelers Rest. He was going through a divorce. He was looking to do something new, so he turned to an old hobby he picked up collecting scraps of wood while working on construction sites as a teenager.
He’d cobble together what he could.
Now he masters all he can.
The 48-year-old furniture maker has built booming business since initially working out of his garage. Brendan Carpenter Custom Furniture and Refinishing is turning out twice the work it did just a year ago.
It’ll likely never provide the cash compensation Carpenter collected in finance, but it has riches all its own. And it’s carving out a place in the landscape of its industry.
He’ll be featured alongside other leaders in the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum beginning Aug. 1, in “A Compass to Guide: South Carolina Cabinetmakers Today.” The exhibit aims to explore contemporary cabinetmakers, their regional differences and similarities, and the roots of their respective traditions.
Among the items Carpenter plans to display is a wooden secretary inspired by 19th century Pennsylvania pieces. Organizing correspondence as those secretaries did originally wouldn’t provide the same usefulness today, so he’s modified his piece into a gentleman’s bar. Maple wine glass holders, glass rack, wine rack and bottle storage are housed behind the walnut drop-down, slanted desk lid and tombstone doors.
Handmade cock-beading and holly-inlay striping dress the solid walnut-maple drawers built with dovetail joinery above hand-carved claw-and-ball feet.
It’s a new spin on an old tradition, and it, too, is kind of like its maker.
With re-imagination and craftsmanship, Carpenter and his secretary are finding rewarding new uses.
“Ironically I’m working as much or more than I’ve ever worked, which is a lot,” Carpenter said as a wood-burning stove warmed his sawdust-covered shop in a repurposed storefront in Wellford. “I probably work 70 hours a week, but I’m doing something that I enjoy, so it doesn’t feel like 70 hours a week.”
With years of on-the-job training and special experience under the tutelage of woodworking masters such as Lonnie Bird, he’s made a comfortable place far removed from the corporate world.
“There you can work for 10 years and do a million things right and never hear anything, but if you do something wrong you’re going to hear about it, whereas in this job, if you do your job right and you do a good job, you hear about it immediately,” Carpenter said. “On a personal level it’s very rewarding to create something or restore something that means something to that individual. The personal benefits and rewards and satisfaction you get from that is so dramatically different than what you get in the corporate world.”
Still, it’s a business now, more than a hobby. While the sale of a company he founded, FlexCheck, enabled him to venture out of finance, Carpenter wasn’t prepared to pour his assets into a bottomless trunk.
So he adapted skills he honed pushing paper and filling spreadsheets to provide opportunity to sustain his sanding and staining.
Online presence and social media has enabled him to take his old-world-style craftsmanship into the new marketplace.
And he’s been met with applause.
“He does excellent work,” said Tiffany Newkirk, who enlisted Carpenter to refurbish her kitchen cabinets in Simpsonville with new trim and finish to resemble custom work without completely rebuilding them. “He’s very true to what he says he’s going to do. He’s very honest.”
“He’s done some beautiful work for our clients,” said Barbara Dalton of Greenville’s Dalton Interiors, who first met Carpenter when he was still in the corporate world but building furniture on the side. “He’s very meticulous with his work. He’s very detail-oriented. He knows furniture design and construction, but he also is very knowledgeable with different woods, and he helps us with how they’ll take finishes and how they’re going to react to different things.”
Reaction is what makes his work rewarding.
“For me, it’s not about the money,” Carpenter said. “It’s the delivery. You’ve got to kind of be a little bit of a nutcase to like to stand around and sand wood all day. Nobody likes to do that, not even me, but that’s what we do. It’s seeing the customer’s reaction. It’s knowing that they love this piece.”
The museum exhibit marks another notch in the growth of his new, personal, literally handmade company.
“I think back to the pieces that I made when I first started and think those were just gosh-awful, terrible,” he said. “My pieces now are pretty nice. I still have a long way to go. I want to get so much better than what I am now, and I’m going to be that way the rest of my life, but it is nice to see a milestone along the way, to see I’m making pieces people want.”
- Follow Michael Burns on Twitter @MikeNearGreer