I Made a Chair.
Growing up in Lubbock, Texas - some might say a small town - my childhood memories were overall good ones. I had a father who was in a MASH unit in Vietnam and became a nurse anesthetist in private practice and this brought my family to Texas from Washington DC when I was 5 years old.
My mother was a registered nurse, became a stay at home mom, and seemed a bit too focused on making sure that my underwear were laundered every night and placed on the top stack in my drawer ready to wear the next morning.
Our house was immaculate all the time. Our summer vacations were camping trips to the mountains of New Mexico, white toy poodle in tow. My younger brother and I raced BMX bikes, built skateboard ramps, tumbleweed forts (yes, it’s a thing) and rode motorcycles. We would race against each other in slalom races at any ski resort we were vacationing.
Looking back, I am so grateful for the many amazing childhood memories. Table saws, sanders and a myriad of other woodworking tools filled our garage and I would help my dad with various projects as a young apprentice. In 7th grade, I took ‘shop class’ (now called Industrial Design) thinking I would be able to hone my woodworking skills and make dad proud. The curriculum for the class was simple, one wood project and one metal project had to be completed by the end of the class.
I decided to build a chair for my wood project. It was an ambitious goal to take on during the year-long class, but I embraced the challenge, came up with the chair design and my parents helped with the materials. The project was filled with many challenges, but I was so proud of the finished product. Mr. Roberts, my shop teacher, was also very proud and I think he was a little impressed that I pulled it off.
Through this experience, my love of design and the creative process was rooted for me. I took architectural drafting classes in middle school and high school. I had a drafting table in my room and would often stay up past midnight drawing buildings. I even won a few awards culminating with my senior year of high school, the advanced architecture student award. My teacher even helped me navigate a full architecture scholarship. Fast forward to college…the architecture career path felt like a big hill to climb, and I ended up pursuing an economics degree and business career. I also met a girl, or should I say, she met me. After dating for five years, we married, bought our first house, took on a mortgage, had three kids, and built a life. All the things I thought I was supposed to do and that were modeled for me.
The last 30 years were focused on raising kids, a big life, a big house, the best neighborhood, private schools, big vacations…and I began to realize I was playing a game that I was not winning. And more importantly, I was not paying attention to what my heart was telling me. The creative kid got lost and I began to realize that I needed to pay attention to this. A crack in the foundation of my marriage revealed itself. The lifestyle was certainly not feeding my soul. Much self reflection and inner work followed.
A workshop at the Esalen Institute was a transformational moment. I wasn’t following what my heart was telling me for years. The tension of my life began to unfold before me and I knew I needed to make serious changes. I began to search out what was driving me. My inner child wasn’t being fully fed. And things began to shift.
I enrolled in an Architecture Academy at age 50. On the first day, one of the other students walked up to me asking if I was the instructor, and I smiled and said “no, I am a student just like you…” Many cool projects were completed during those six weeks, and I lost track of time at that drafting table. I was truly in a “flow state” during those days in the studio.
At the time, I was involved in two companies but had an amazing team that supported me attending this class. I had to let go and place trust in them and after finishing that class, something amazing happened. We had the best financial quarter ever. Our consulting company was transformed by me getting out of the way and feeding my soul for a few weeks. This was the springboard for ultimately selling my first company to a larger national firm.
And the chair began to be discussed in this class with other architects and students. I began to get validation that many architects made chairs. In a marriage therapy session after the Architecture Academy, my therapist heard about the story of “the Chair” and was also intrigued. She asked me the question, “Can you do anything with that project from so many years ago?”
That simple prompt was all that I needed. That next day I began to search out a fabricator who helped me rethink the ergonomics of the chair I made in 7th grade. We made some design modifications, built prototypes, and I began seeking advice from professionals in the furniture industry. I decided I was going to bring this chair to market. Almost 40 years after I built the original version in 7th grade, I was awarded a design patent. I also received commercial BIFMA certification after the chair went through rigorous testing and we now have two manufacturing partners working to bring this project to market.
The story was picked up in several magazines after apparently resonating with a few editors. Big life transitions began to unfold…over the last two and half years, my father passed, I ended a 30-year relationship with my partner, launched three kids, sold a company, watched a child navigate a gender transition, and had my own health scare while training for a half marathon.
Less than two years ago, I went on a hike one morning and started seeing hearts. I never really noticed them in nature before but now I see hearts just about everyday now, mostly when I’m not looking. They just show up for me on signs, in nature, in clouds, rocks and in places I don’t expect to see them. I was told that this is the world showing me love. Our manufacturing partner even has a huge heart on the side of their building. Those who know me also began giving me hearts after hearing this story. I was also given a heart shaped rock from a shaman named Saul in Baja (many of you know him). As a part of my journey, I made a chair. The journey is the prize. Follow your heart. If you pay attention, it won’t let you down. ❤
Chris is an executive based in Austin, TX involved in software, commercial real estate consulting and now furniture. He is an MEA Online alum, has attended a Baja Sabbatical Session and recently completed an MEA workshop (he’s an MEA three-fer).