The Master Builder: David Stine

GA 32 | Family Farm

 

Dave Stine can build one-of-kind, custom pieces for your home. He builds them out of lumber from his family farm that rests on 1,000 acres. But he can also sew. And, his college job was as a diesel mechanic because he speaks cars too. Oh, and he’s an attorney, NBD. Essentially, he’s a unicorn. Dave is an absolute gem of a guy. His work is beautiful, hand-crafted, slow-made and sustainable. He runs his very successful furniture business with his wife, and his awesome story is full of pivots and dream-chasing that panned out perfectly.

Listen to the podcast here:

The Master Builder: David Stine

Dave Stine came and sat down with me. He is a master superstar furniture designer and builder. He grew up on a farm in Dow, Illinois and then he became a lawyer. He left that to come back to furniture design. His story is awesome. It’s all about everything that is slow-made, handcrafted and sustainable. He uses lumber from the farm where he grew up. He’s the sweetest and loveliest man. I hope you enjoy our talk with Dave Stine.

I’m here with David, but you go by Dave Stine. He’s a master furniture designer and maker. Is that right? Is that how you would describe yourself?

That’s very generous. I love that.

I like adding master at the front of things.

The master will run with a master furniture designer or a professional furniture maker. We’ve been fortunate to be able to make my living doing that for sure.

It’s special and amazing because I had another guest here who is a master seamstress tailor, couture and alteration person. Few people work with their hands anymore. It’s a dying art.

I love working with my hands. Going back to my history, I trained as an attorney.

I want the whole story. You trained as a lawyer. You are from St. Louis?

I’m from a little town called Dow, Illinois, which is right outside of St. Louis. If you have heard of Dow, we’re related. There are about five people there. They’re all my cousins. I grew up on a farm there and it was a dairy farm when I was growing up. We had about 1,000 acres. We milked cows for a living, that’s what we did. It’s been in my family for four generations. I’m the oldest in my generation and springing forward. My grandfather always beat it in my head as I was growing up. You need to figure out tax law and estate planning and things of that nature so that we can keep the farm together. This was during the ‘80s when people were losing their family farms because of inheritance issues and things like that. Fast forward, I knew that working with your hands and working on a farm was a tough way to make a living. I was lucky to be good at school and I’m a great test-taker. I went to college and took the SLAT and did well. I went to law school at George Washington in DC and then I practiced law for about a year. It was great to be in DC.

You went all the way through law school, passed the bar and was a working lawyer for one year. 

I stuck it out for one year. I’m not great in an office environment. I like to be outdoors and self-directed. I don’t do office politics very well. I tend to be blunt to the wrong people. It’s a little tough. I did enjoy my time there and I enjoyed trying to help people with their estate and tax planning and things like that. A lot of people find that work dry. If you’ve grown up with this hanging over your head, you have a little bit of a dog in the fight and it’s a little bit more interesting.

What an incredibly helpful skill and knowledge to have to yourself. 

I tell people all the time I build furniture, but then I’ve got this whole law degree in my back pocket to fall back on, which is not terrible.

You can whip the bat out at any time.

I love whipping it out at weird moments when somebody thinks they have one over me. It’s such a jerk thing to do but I like it.

Sometimes to have the ace card, “That’s funny because I’m an attorney.” 

“I happened to be an attorney.”

How did you transfer from attorney to a furniture builder, maker or designer? 

Growing up, we did everything on the farm ourselves. We grew our own food, butchered our own meat, cut down trees in the wintertime to make lumber for fences in our homes. Our family prided itself on being self-sustainable. We did everything there on the farm and it’s a neat way to grow up. We were like the Waltons. We went to town and we had cars, trucks, and stuff, but we prided ourselves on being self-sustainable.

GA 32 | Family Farm
Family Farm: When you have a family farm, you sustainably harvest from that so you can make a living, but it has to get better every year, too.

 

This is in Dow, Illinois. How many siblings do you have? 

I don’t have any siblings but I grew up with seven cousins. There are eight of us in my generation. We all lived right there on the farm within a few miles. In the summertime, we would all be at my grandmother’s. I remember everybody running around in shorts, no shirts, and no shoes, all summer long like wild kids. It was super fun. My grandmother would say things like, “You’ve had your breakfast. I don’t want to see you again until dinner.” You were outdoors.

I had not on a farm but my mother was like that too, “Bye, see you later.” 

My wife and I talk about that all the time. You and Art have two kids. We have two kids as well. We tended to helicopter a little bit more. We know what they’re doing and they’re great kids and we’re fortunate that way but my parents didn’t have the level of interest that I have in my kids. They were living their life and I was there like, “You’ll be fine. Here are food and clothes.” Go to school when we tell you. That was it.

That was the same for me. You’re on this farm, seven cousins and doing everything yourself. 

I went off to Penn State to go to undergraduate and study political science there. While I was there putting myself through college, I worked as a diesel mechanic. Back to learning things on the farm, I was good with mechanical stuff and I got a job sweeping the floors. By the time I was out of college, I was the night manager there. I would do the overnights and run the record. I did that. I took a year off after college and then applied to law schools. I went to law school in Washington, DC. All during this time, I hobby woodworking doing whatever because I enjoyed it. I built a bed, a nightstand, and stuff when I went to college. In my dorm room, it looked a Shaker showroom. It was a little silly, but my roommates seemed to enjoy having some nice stuff. When I got into law school, I found a little workshop where I could rent some space in and I got a little space. It was right about the time. Do you remember when Cigar Aficionado came out and it was Sylvester Stallone and everybody in cigars were big early ’90s? Everybody wanted a humidor. I started building humidors for people and then I started selling them at this little clubby cigar place called Georgetown Tobacco. That led to a waiting list and I was still in law school.

Your humidors were wait-listed?

Yes, mostly because of full-time law school, you can’t phone it in. You have to do the work. I got out of law school and I got a job. I was doing that for a while. In the meantime, I had met my wife, Stephanie. I moved to DC with a good friend of mine from high school. She happened to be a lady. Her name is Brenda and she’s still the best friend of mine to this day.

Was she a girlfriend? 

No, we were just friends. She happened to be taking a job down there and I had gotten into law school so we’re like, “This is perfect. We can split rent.” We went down and we found a place. We go back and me being me and always trying to be handy and manically busy. I’m painting the apartment and putting up shelves and she’s like, “I’m out of here.” I’m walking down the street. She goes down the street because she sees this sign, “Bar opening” or, “Grand opening,” or whatever. I’m at home sewing curtains for the new tabletop. If you can do it with your hands and lose money, I’m your guy. She walks down the street, she comes back an hour later and she’s like, “I met your future wife. We’re going down there tomorrow and I’m going to introduce you to this lady because she is fantastic.” We went down the next night and she introduced me to Stephanie, who is now my wife. I made it my mission to go there every time I had a free moment. Stephanie finally agreed to go out on a date with me. We’ve been together ever since.

Stephanie, your wife, did she work at this bar?

She owned it. Stephanie and her sister were political appointees, then through elections, they lost their job. They had grown up in Toledo, Ohio. Their dad had the most famous bar in Toledo, Ohio. It was called the Peppermint Lounge and then it became the Country Palace. That’s a whole other story, but this guy was an interesting cat.

Stephanie knew how to run a bar. 

They lost their jobs through the electoral process. DC is crazy that way. People come and go with the administrations every two or four years. She opened this place with her sister and then I happened to walk in and she swept me off my feet.

How long did she go out with you? 

It took six months. She finally agreed to go out with me in mid-December. She said, “I finally have an opening in my schedule.” She’s throwing me a bone. I said, “This is perfect timing because I’m going home for a month. By the time I get back, you’ll probably have a new boyfriend or something.” She said, “I’ll keep a space open for you.” I came back, we went out on one date and it freaked her out a little bit. I met her at her house, picked her up, took her out, old-fashioned. I’m pretty old-fashioned. We went out, we had drinks, dinner, and a handshake at the door. “Thank you so much. Would you mind if I call you again?” “Please, do call me again.” I go home and I found out that she calls her sister. She’s like, “Who is this guy? Who does that?” I was like, “Come on in.” It didn’t happen. We went out the next night and it was fireworks.

That was how many years ago? 

That would’ve been 1994. I’m terrible at math, so I have no idea.

It’s been a while. You and Stephanie are solid. How do humidors then transition to your leaving the law? 

It was great that we talked about Steph because that’s the basis. Stephanie is a great life partner and supportive. She saw that I wasn’t happy in the office, but I’m the kind of guy that I would have stuck with it because I thought that was the right thing to do. When you get married and you’re an old-fashioned guy, you’re supposed to work and support the family and make sure there’s at least a baseline there so we can have a family and do your thing. Stephanie didn’t need that. She had her own thing going and she was able to see that I wasn’t loving it. She’s like, “You’ve got a waitlist of six months of clients which if you’re doing it full-time means two months of clients. If you’re doing this full-time, you could do it.” To be a good employee, I gave my boss six-weeks’ notice and I said, “At this date, I want to quit.” What we ended up doing is when we got married, we didn’t take a honeymoon at that time because we’re young kids, we’re trying to save money and everything else. We took a three-month honeymoon in Europe as soon as I quit my job. Stephanie took the leave and got her sister to take over. We went all over Europe and had such a great time. We came back and put our nose to the grindstone and then been working ever since.

When you came back from Europe, did you start the business in DC or you went back home?

We started the business in DC. I used my law degree. We incorporated the business back in ‘97 and then ever since then, we’ve been doing it. When we first started, I was a hammer for hire. I would build your design for your desk or I had a lot of designers I worked with at that time. Maybe they needed something that was odd, different or a weird size that they couldn’t find off the rack somewhere. There was a lot of remodeling going on in Washington, DC at that time with these big Victorian homes. I would do windows or screen doors. When you’re young, you have to take what you can get.

At this point, you’re more of a fancy handyman. 

All the guys who were real contractors and had wood shops were 20, 30, 40 miles outside of the city. I was right in Adams Morgan in DC. It was great too having the social network from law school and then having all Stephanie’s good clients and friends from her bar. That network is better than any advertising you can ever have. It worked out well. In the meantime, I was coming up with my own designs and my own thoughts, which led me back to the work that we used to do on the farm with logging and stacking lumber. These live edge designs and finding the right tree for the job.

What does live edge mean?

Regular lumber like you see decks built out of or things like that. It’s cut into dimensions. You make 2×6 out of the log or 2×4 or whatever. It’s square edges and it’s homogenous as a product. I like to celebrate the live edge. You take a log and then you saw it through and through. You end up with a bull or a stack of slabs and they all have their natural live edge which is the exact shape of the tree but with the bark removed. That’s all. You remove the bark and then cut them through and through. That’s what I respond to in my work. I started to gravitate away from the hammer for hire to more like, “These are my designs.”

[bctt tweet=”Moving to a farm from the city, you end up doing the reverse of what you’ve been doing.” username=””]

How long into having your own business did that start to happen for you, that process of wanting to design your own thing? 

I was designing my own stuff with live edges and out there designed features that weren’t seen in the mainstream right from the beginning. In ‘93 to ‘95, my humidors were super classic like boxes that were polished up. The coffee tables that I would do for friends’ weddings and things like that where I could be creative. That started to get a little bit more traction. People started to see that and see value in that. Through the course of 3 or 4 years, it became all about the live edge material and the story. I would go back to the farm and I would saw trees and dry the lumber and then bring them back to DC. It became all about the story and where you found the lumber. There was a sustainability piece to that we were early adopters on, which is it’s the way I grew up. My grandfather along with other things that he tried to instill in us was the idea that you’ve got this beautiful piece of land. Your ancestors were smart enough to keep it and get it going. It’ll provide you a living, but you’ve got to take what you need and leave the rest for the next guy. You don’t take everything that’s great and then, “Sorry about your kids.” It was a good lesson.

It’s a seventh-generation philosophy. 

If we could all live a little bit more like that, we might be a little bit better off. Not everybody is lucky enough to be born into a family that has 1,000 acres. I’m pretty fortunate.

On the family farm, do you have one kind of tree or all different kinds of trees?

I get asked that question so much and it’s funny because to me, it seems simple but we’re divorced from our natural world in that way. This is a natural forest. It’s whatever the squirrels and the birds plant rather than a tree farm where you plant black Walnut because you have it in your head that you think black Walnut is going to be valuable in twenty years when this is ready like any other crop. Whatever wants to grow there, whatever is supposed to grow there, that’s what grows.

I love that. It’s all different whatever this grows the plant. 

The technical name for it is a naturally occurring Midwestern hardwood forest. It says exactly what it is.

That is your workshop. 

The inspiration, the workshop, and our lumberyard. I feel it’s my responsibility and what I try to do is sustainably harvest from that. We can make a living, but it’s there and getting better and better every year for the next generation.

That’s very optimistic because you don’t hear that a lot. 

For me, it’s more important to take what you need and leave the rest for the next generation. We could have somebody clear-cut that place, put $3 million in the bank and then move to California.

That would be sad. When did you move from DC back to the Midwest this time back to St. Louis?

We had our son, Oscar, in 1999. He’s a good kid. He was a Millennium baby. He was born the day before 2000, December 29th. Everybody that has kids knows it’s great if you can have your family around for help like your mom, your uncles, and your sisters. It’s just for the help, not necessarily even to take care of the kid but for the moral support, whatever you need. We happen to be out to visit the farm in 2001. Oscar was two and I had to say my mom ponied up. She came out and spent over a month when Oscar was there. She’s super helpful. To this day, she’s the most helpful. She is my biggest fan and Stephanie’s biggest fan. Anyway, she came out and helped.

GA 32 | Family Farm
Family Farm: When people see your product in a place they associate with something great, they end up wanting to get it.

 

Besides being an incredible mother and grandmother and coming out for a month when you had a newborn, which is like heaven-sent stuff. 

She put a price on that. It’s exactly what you need.

She worked on the farm with your family.

She’s the oldest sibling of that generation and her siblings too. She had that boss mentality as the oldest kid.

I’m the oldest. 

You know all about it.

Art tells me because he had some of her delicious pickled items. He couldn’t stop talking about it. By this point, I was so over his calls about the amazing food he was having while I’m home with sick children. I was like, “That’s great, fine.” It would also be days where I wouldn’t hear from him.

Our family is pretty hardcore German on both sides. It’s pickled everything, pickled beets, pickled green beans and pickled asparagus. Sauerkraut is the baseline thing that my mom does. She does an actual ton of sauerkraut every year. She gets 2,000 pounds of cabbage from friends of hers on produce row. It comes from California for all I know. We make sauerkraut and we do it as a big family project. Six to eight weeks later, it’s ready to take out of these giant crocs and then can. My mom loves the whole idea of farm to table and knowing where your food comes from. She’s always been that way. She helped start and ran a couple of local farmer’s markets. She sells her sauerkraut there and her home-canned jams and jellies where we picked plums from our trees and raspberries.

She sounds like the most awesome personShe runs two farmer’s markets. 

She’s on the board, so she helps run them.

Besides the sauerkraut and the pickling of everything, what were you saying before I interrupted you?

She had jams, jellies and then lots of fresh fruits and vegetables during the growing season, like kale and tomatoes and things like that in nature. She’s retired and she got the greenest thumb in the world. Whatever she feels growing that year, she’ll throw a little bit of this and that. She grows more stuff on accident than most people grow on purpose. She is amazing. My mom has a lemon tree and grows lemon. She puts it in the garage in the wintertime and has grown lights and stuff. She loves it.

Does she put it in the garage? You can move trees? 

If your son is me, yes. I have a forklift.

She has some help. That is honestly amazing. There should be a whole show on your mom. How old is she? 

She turned 72. If I get it wrong, she’ll kill me. She’s grandmother age.

That is special and amazing. She should give lessons too between woodworking and jam making. 

She learned so much of that stuff from her mother who is still living, my grandmother Evelyn. She’s 93. We were talking about industrial arts a little bit. My grandmother and my mother are both 4H and FFA leaders and teaching the younger generations of kids how to sew, how to cook, how to keep house, how to do the garden, how to deal with animals, all that stuff. These skills were passed on.

Grandma Evelyn and your mom could start a homestead here. We charge so much money because no one knows how to do any of it out here. 

The newer generation, which are people that you’re saying, enjoyed craft but there’s a niche market there somewhere. We happen to be in out at the farm with Oscar and it was one of those things. The weather was perfect. The birds were singing, the grass was green and Stephanie said, “We should think about moving back to the farm.” I would never have pushed that on Steph because she’s a city girl. She grew up in the city. I met her in DC. That’s her thing. We rolled the idea around for a while and as luck would have it, one of my mom’s good friends from high school said, “We’re thinking of selling our house and we want to build a small house because our kids are all going off to college and everything.” It was a mile from the family farm where I grew up and it’s this 1871 farmhouse on 40 acres. It needed completely restored, which is right in my wheelhouse. We took the plunge. In 2002, we moved out.

That was a job for you or you bought that house? 

We bought the house to live in. We didn’t move back into the house where I grew up. We moved into a farm that was adjacent to them.

The friend of your mom’s from high school. All the forces conspired for you to bring you back. Was your mother thrilled?

My mother was thrilled. She was excited. Not long after we moved back, we had our second child. It’s been onward and upward.

Did you redo your entire home? 

We did one of these crazy things. We had restored our house in Washington, DC as well. We knew what we were in for but we were young marrieds then with no kids and it was a lot easier. We gutted the downstairs and lived in the upstairs at the new home and then we got to the upstairs and lived in the downstairs. We were covered with plaster dust for two years. You know how that goes.

With toddlers, how fun. Was your business big enough at that point that you had a lot of clients, it was seamless or did you start as a small business restarting?

That’s a great point. I had a good business going in DC. For the first 3 or 4 years, we were back in St. Louis, on the farm in Dow. I call it St. Louis because if you say Illinois, everybody thinks you’re from Chicago.

You’re in Dow and that is where you live, but you say St. Louis. How far a drive is it? 

It’s about 35 to 40 minutes. We’re right across the river, but it’s a world apart. St. Louis is a pretty big town, sports teams, and the whole thing. You’re on the farm and it’s pretty rural. For the first 3 or 4 years, I was doing the reverse of what I had been doing. I was taking finish stuff back to DC, Maryland, Virginia and out in Long Island where I had a lot of clients.

Do you personally take it? 

It was born of necessity at first that I would deliver everything because I do a lot of big things, big in scale-like fifteen-foot conference tables made out of a single plank of lumber, stuff that. It’s tough to get somebody to even deliver that if you can trust them to do it. You know how things are with shipping sometimes. It’s been difficult. I would make the track and I still am that way. It doesn’t bother me to drive twenty hours.

Do you rent to run a huge truck?

We have delivery trucks. At that time, I had a big Mercedes delivery van. We still have those but now we’ve got several. That’s the way I did it.

I want to say, Stephanie, after encouraging you to leave your law job, when she encouraged you to start this business, she runs it with you and she’s the business side. She manages it.

That’s right. She didn’t come in right at the beginning, but a couple of years after we moved back to St. Louis area and then after we had our second child and she was up on her feet, then Stephanie jumped in full-time with me. That’s when the business took off. It became a real business where Stephanie could handle all the marketing, all the internet type stuff and anything that wasn’t woodworking. She has made it an amazing business.

[bctt tweet=”Midwesterners have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder sometimes.” username=””]

When you moved back, you had all your clients in DC and then presumably, you were getting some clients in St. Louis and Dow and local clients. How did words start to spread elsewhere?

What’s funny about that is in the Midwest, we have a little bit of a problem. Sometimes we have an inferiority complex a little bit. If you’re from St. Louis and you’re trying to sell stuff to people in St. Louis, they’re like, “I’m not sure about you. I’ll go to New York and see what they have there.” I was doing tons of shows in New York and LA. My other big market was the Mountain States like Aspen, doing stuff in Jackson Hole, Park City, and Salt Lake, where people have these great homes. I would go out and do furniture shows so people could see it, touch it and feel it. This was back in the early 2000s. There’s no Instagram and Facebook was new. Advertising in New York or something was out of reach for a small business like us. We would go out and people would see it, touch it, feel it and we would make personal relationships and sell furniture that way. That’s how we got going. What’s funny about that to me is we’d be featured in Dwell Magazine or we got featured in Architectural Digest Magazine. People in St. Louis would see that. We could finally get some St. Louis business.

That would give you the street credit to get your local fans?

The other thing that happened is we got involved in the infancy of a serious food scene in St. Louis.

We have to talk about this because I’ve never been there. My husband went to find you and you’re producing partners because you might have something exciting happening soon. I don’t know if we can talk about it so who knows? He would call me from the very first day that he got there. I feel like he might not have come home to me. He was debating. He was like, “This place is wonderful. Everyone is so nice here. It’s gorgeous and the food is outstanding.” He wouldn’t stop talking about the food. He’d be like, “We’re on our way to our second dinner.” I didn’t know that St. Louis had such a thriving and bustling food scene.

You can tell by looking at me that people from the Midwest are not afraid to eat. This is not the California body over here.

You look the picture of health.

Thank you very much. It’s great. I was saying that Midwesterners have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder sometimes. There’s a little bit of an inferiority complex, but there’s an amazing food scene in St. Louis. It was sparked by a couple of guys who I happened to meet and then do a bunch of business with. Gerard Craft is a great one. He ended up winning a James Beard Award. My friend Alex Donley from Gioias, he won a James Beard Award. Kevin Nashan from Sydney Street and Peacemaker. These guys decided they were going to make a foothold in St. Louis.

Are they from St. Louis?

That’s what’s funny. Kevin’s from Santa Fe, Alex is from St. Louis, born and bred, grew up on the hill. It’s a whole thing. Gerard is from DC. These guys saw an opportunity in St. Louis to create a foothold and do their thing. I don’t even know if they knew what they were creating, but the city was ready for it. People were ready for it. They worked so hard thanklessly for years and then started to get these accolades. The food is incredible.

Art told me. He was dropping James Beard and Michelin Star things. I’m not very jealous that I didn’t get to go on the trip with him. You are friends with all these people. Did you make the tables inside the restaurant or the bars or both?

What we do in our business is flat surfaces. Whatever that is in a restaurant, we’ll do it. We do a lot of bars, we do a lot of tables. In our private client business, we do a lot of headboards, coffee tables, things of that nature. It was luck and perseverance where we met these people and we happen to do some tables for Gerard Craft and the people saw those and they wanted to do that. I’m not very subtle in my marketing. I’m like, “You are opening a restaurant.” Not everybody wants to win a James Beard Award. I’m not saying it’s my tables, but maybe it was.

There’s a little Midas touch happening. You’ll never know. 

That’s been great for business and for marketing.

Also for your own food intake. You go and you get the royal treatment.

We have been very lucky. They’re nice to Stephanie and me. Our kids are so spoiled. One of the greatest restaurants in St. Louis right now is Louie. About years ago, we bought a little city house too. Our kids ended up going to Clayton for high school, which is in town. Our friend, Matt McGuire, who is an alum of some of Gerard’s restaurants and some other great stuff he’s done in the past, opened Louie right down the street from our house. It’s bad. It would be being down the street from Salt & Straw, which we are where we’re staying. I can’t walk home at night without getting a scoop of that ice cream. I can’t walk in my house in St. Louis without going pass Louie, “Maybe I’ll get this plate and yoke here,” or whatever it is and it’s killing me. My kids are spoiled. They think Louie is like McDonald’s.

That’s normal for them. You have incredible food in St. Louis. You’ve made all these friends and business connections with these shots. You’ve done a lot of the restaurants and then the clients that you have now, is it mostly private clients? Do you still do furniture shows? Is it all over the map? 

This is how Stephanie has helped so much. She helps with our marketing plan. We work with professionals all the time. One of the things law school taught me is you need to know what you don’t know and you need to know when to hire professionals. When you hire a professional, you have to let them do their job. We hire marketing and advertising professionals all the time. What we’ve found out is in the last few years, the costs and the expenses and all that stuff are going up and then the return is going down. We have refocused everything to different marketing strategies where we have an amazing website and we do a lot of stuff on Instagram and Facebook.

Do you find Instagram helpful for your business?

I do. It’s a weird thing. I started Instagram when Instagram was new. It was 2013 or 2014, something like that, maybe 2012. I immediately got 40,000 followers within weeks. It never has moved because they changed the algorithms and so you can’t do it. We never bought any followers. We never do promotions or anything like that. We have this core group of hardcore fans that found us because they were interested in us. Through that group, it’s a lot of woodworkers, which is great. You get professional stuff and you get ideas from people and they ask you. We try to be responsive. Some of our biggest jobs have come directly from our Instagram presence. It’s a different way of doing business and we try to keep evolving. What’s amazing to me is when I was a kid and when I was starting, everybody wanted to come and touch it and feel it, “What is this product?” This is the way I still feel about clothes. I don’t buy anything that I didn’t try it on first. People are a lot more comfortable with buying something that they have never even seen.

They make returns easy. 

Some of the stuff that we make is custom, but we also work hard to facilitate that. We have great photography and good communication.

Do you have apprentices?

We do. We have our lead guy. He’s the one who makes most of the stuff nowadays. I make all the artistic decisions still and manage all and everything that goes on in the shop. Eli Cronin, our guy is a stud. He’s been with us since he’s nineteen.

How did he train? How did he know so much about woodwork? 

Being so lucky growing up where I did and then starting the business on the farm instead of in the city. There are all these farm kids still. They’re capable. They know how to work with their hands. They’re not afraid to work. They show up places on time. They know where to stand in the forest when you’re cutting down trees so they don’t get killed.

[bctt tweet=”Nowadays, people are more comfortable buying things they’ve never seen.” username=””]

I don’t think our city kid could do any one of those things. 

All of these things are learnable skills. When you have a young person who grew up that way, you’re head and shoulders above.

Moving back also gave you all this future staff. 

Where I went to high school and it’s still there and where these guys went to high school like Luke, our other full-time guy, they still have manual training in high school. You can take a woodshop or metal shop and see if you like it.

Here, I have never heard of a school that still has woodworking or shop. 

That’s too bad.

In Dow, in Illinois, and in Missouri, is this standard that schools still offer this? 

Not all of them but a lot of the rural areas, you still have it. I was on the double track. You could go to college prep or you could go to the industrial arts. I did both. I’m always reminded of the story. One of my good friends, this guy named Chris Williams and he’s a plumber, I saw him one time and he’s carrying a bucket of sewage down the street. He picks it up and he goes, “Smells like money to me, Dave.”

Plumbers are crucial. 

That’s your best friend when your toilet backs stuff. You need a plumber and he knows what to do.

“What do you want me to pay you? I will do that. That’s fine. Please come.”

Industrial arts, who know how to work with their hands, guys are not afraid to get a little bit dirty. I’m lucky to have that pool.

It was perfect timing for the slow movement, slow fashion, whether it’s the shoes, clothes made here, made by real people.

People are lucky and it has a lot to do with the success of our business. Being lucky hitting that timing where all of a sudden, people started to realize you can’t outsource everything. Having a relationship with the person that’s building your furniture, making your clothes or growing your food is important and it enriches your life.

Not to sound all out there but when you get something, whether its clothes which I have a few pieces that are made by people, but I don’t have furniture yet, maybe we will in the future, it does feel like there’s an energy that is different from something that didn’t come. 

It’s not like that disposable type thing. There are a time and place for Ikea. You have your first apartment after college and you know you’re not going to be there more than six months or a year.

We’re full-fledged adults and we still have Ikea. 

There are a time and place for that. You get to the point where you’re deciding you’re going to buy a dining room table or you’re going to buy a desk or coffee table, whatever the case may be. You want something that’s going to last and it’s not going to go out of style in a couple of years.

GA 32 | Family Farm
Family Farm: When it all comes together, you may just have a perfectly functional piece of art that you can pass down for generations.

 

It gets to be usable pieces of art in your home that you’re using, loving and working with.

When it all comes together, you have a perfectly functional piece of art that you might pass down for generations.

You don’t have to look at it on the wall. Your kids, do either one of them have the woodworking bug gene in them?

I was guilty as a lot of people are trying to nudge a little bit. The funny thing is Oscar is very creative. He has better design since I do for sure and natural gifts that way. In our family, he’s what they call a little bit of work brittle. He’s not looking to go out and get dirty and go in the woods all day. I’ve forced him to do it a few times and he’s good. He’s a good kid and he can be a hard worker, but his interests lie somewhere else. He’s interested in fashion and design and make-up.

I looked at his Instagram, his make-up. I wish he could do my make-up. I saw beautiful things and incredible eyeliner. 

He’s talented with that stuff. He’s so artistic. His sister is the same way with her drawing. In the regular lane, her drawing and her artwork, which she does are amazing, but drama, singing, and dancing, she has this charisma just like everyone else. She can be a little nervous and a little anxious off stage. She hits that stage and those lights come on and she forgets about it. She has you in the palm of her hand. I’m in the bag for her, she’s my daughter, but we hear from other people too. She played Dorothy in the school play of Wizard of Oz, which is, of course, the lead role. You are on stage the entire time and she’s only a sophomore. All the senior girls were giving her the side-eye, which is always good.

Are there any projects that you have right now that you’re excited about or is there a dream project that you have that you haven’t done yet? 

I’m pretty even-ended when it comes to that stuff. I like what I’m doing right now all the time. I love staying busy. I love getting up early, having an agenda, checking things off the list all day and then going to bed tired. You wake up energized and ready to do it again. One interesting thing that we’re doing. A good client of mine has got together with a group of investors and they’re building a food truck garden in an area that’s been underserved in St. Louis. They’re going to have a big, huge beer hole communal area. They’ll have a rotating food truck court with a beautiful garden. In the summer, it’s like an amphitheater situation so they can have concerts and bands. On the inside, you can rent for weddings or its open or whatever. We’re going to do some giant tables, 30-footers.

Will it be all communal tables?

There will be some individual stuff, but the idea is communal, so you can get the most seating. It forces everybody to have their thing, enjoy other people, meet other people and give that beer hole feel. We’re excited about that. That’s going to be an interesting project.

You have clients all over and you bring the furniture out. Do you help install it in their home?

Its tongue in cheek, but it’s true. You buy a $50,000 table for me and you’re going to get to see me more than you even want to. I’ll be right over.

When I asked you if you would do this interview, I said, “I want to hear how you got into furniture design but don’t tell me now. Let’s save it for the show.” You said, “I love talking about myself. I’ll tell you now. I’ll tell you then.” It’s so good. 

My wife needs a medal. She puts up with me. I love the sound of my own voice. I fit right in, you’re in here in LA.

It’s a perfect fit. I love how much you love your work and what you do. It feels like it comes from such a warm place that I want to hear more of it. 

Thank you for saying that. I do enjoy it. I understand how fortunate I was to be able to find this path and not only find what I enjoy doing, but then to be able to make a nice living out of it as well and sprinkles on top, being able to work with my wife productively every day. Do you know how that can be? It’s tough being married. It’s a job. You have to work at it and there’s a lot of love there and everything else, but then at the end of the day, sometimes you need a little space. You work together too.

You’ve got to go home and have dinner with them. 

It’s been so great. I have zero regrets about the way we’ve lived our life. We’ve been so lucky.

It sounds like it’s the most beautiful story and it’s everything that I love to know, especially on this show that you followed your bliss. It’s working out wonderfully and beautifully for you. You get to work with your wife and all these different projects keep coming up for you. The fact that you’ve straddled both worlds of law and industrial arts, now I know that term.

That’s a ’50s term, but that’s exactly what it is.

I want to bring that term back. 

It’s a great thing and to expose kids to different things in school.

I wish that the shop was offered. 

STEM is great, but it’s not for everybody.

If anybody wanted to reach out to you, do they do that through Instagram or your website?

We’re easy to find. The only hard thing about me is the way we spell my last name.

On Instagram, you’re @DavidStineFurniture. You have a beautiful website, which you’ve told me about, but I haven’t seen it. 

It’s DavidStineWoodWorking.com. If you google David Stine, it’s me and then there’s a preacher in DC. You’ll know that’s not me.

Thank you so much for coming and talking to me.

Thank you so much.

I appreciate it.

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