After 21 years of working in shops in the suburbs or (worse) sprawling edge cities, I was thrilled to move to a storefront on Willard Street in Covington, Ky. It has exceeded every expectation, and I have forged a lot of great relationships with nearby woodworkers, metalworkers, carpenters and glass artists.
On top of that, the architecture is an endless source of inspiration, offering pattern, shadow, ornament and form. And my store’s plate-glass windows are like a high-definition television tuned to the human dramas on the sidewalks. Here are my three favorite tales from the last two years.
Sprinting in the City
While my daughter Katy and I were walking back to the store from lunch, I challenged her to a foot race down Ninth Street. She declined. But as we turned onto Ninth, she changed her mind and took off running. I pursued her – sprinting at top speed.
It was a spring day, and all the cars lined up at the stoplight on Ninth Street had their windows open. And the drivers and passengers started yelling at us.
“Hey! You leave her alone!” one driver yelled.
“Stop chasing her!” another screamed. “I’ll call the cops!”
I started laughing so hard I lost the race.
Money Doesn’t Buy Good Taste
It’s pretty common for local residents to stop by the shop to see what I’m building. They also like to look at the completed pieces of furniture waiting to go to customers.
One day a woman stopped by who was looking for work cleaning bathrooms (sorry, I clean my own toilets). After walking in she rushed to the back of the room, dropped to her knees and started examining the fretwork on the staked dining table we use as a desk. She spent a few minutes examining that table, then moved to the aumbry to examine the carving. Then one of my chairs.
She went on a rant about store-bought furniture that any woodworker would recognize. This woman, who you might think is homeless, had really good taste in furniture. (Better taste than my suburban neighbors on the whole.)
If it Looks Like a Crime Scene…
Last winter when I was building the 1505 Loffelholz workbench I was having a heck of a time getting the tail vise working properly. After a frustrating day of adjusting it and failing, I gave up and decided to go home.
I locked the shop’s door and walked to my truck. I had a sudden idea on adjusting the vise that stopped me dead in my tracks. I turned around, unlocked the shop door and immediately slid under the bench, lying on my back. I was so excited I forgot to close the shop’s door.
After 10 minutes of working on my back, I heard someone running toward me.
“I’m calling 911! Are you OK? Are you hurt? Did they rob you?”
A guy was standing in the open doorway, out of breath, with a cellphone.
Again, I started laughing. Except for a pool of blood it looked like a crime scene. I was flat on my back, staring straight up. The door was wide open.
I know a lot of woodworkers fantasize about a cozy workshop out in the woods somewhere where they can be surrounded by nature. And be free from distractions of human society. But for me, a city workshop is best shop I’ve ever had.
— Christopher Schwarz, editor, Lost Art Press
Personal site: christophermschwarz.com
23 thoughts on “The City Workshop”
Chris, I live in Toronto and while it isn’t downtown where I live, neither is it the suburbs. Just the sweet spot in between. One day, I’ll make it down for an open Saturday and really see what you love so much.
Love the post Chris. Thanks for sharing.
Maybe Katy beat you not only because you were laughing, but because she’s faster 🙂
Sounds like a decent place to live & work – at least people care enough to get involved. In too many places these days people just step over you if you are in trouble (DAMHIK) rather than ask if you are OK, can they call emergency services and such.
Those are some great stories! I grew up in a very small town and then moved to a big city. I like a small town but there is just something about the city that makes you inspired every day. Maybe it’s the ability to see more problems to fix every day or how other people fix them. Regardless I don’t think I could every move away now.
Charles Burkowsky like.
What a great spot, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.
It really is a charming little place to spend some time.
Great stories. Thanks for sharing. My shop too is in town, albeit a small country town in Arkansas Ozarks. And I have my regulars who like to stop by and ‘critique’ shall we say. Good stories here too. On the daughter foot race thing, I too challenged my daughter to a foot raise and was doing pretty good for about 50 feet when I heard her laugh as she whizzed by me.
You just can’t buy those experiences for money, and it’d never happen in a secluded place out in the country – perfect spot, and you made it look good too!
I work out of my garage. I often leave the garage door open so that I can chat with the neighbors and those walking their dogs. It is kind of nice to have those social interactions.
I always have my garage door open when I’m working for just that reason!
I don’t live in KY anymore, but my brother does. We have collaborated on a few pieces where he does the glass work and I build the furniture. I have shopped with him at Cliff’s glass place (can’t remember the name of the shop) which isn’t far from your storefront. What a great inspirational neighborhood!
And bars within walking distance!!!
Makes for a good escape after messing up a bunch of dovetails. Not that I would know, of course.
When my wife challenges me to a race (down the streets of Los Angeles, no less), I always need to make sure I don’t fall more than a foot behind, because I’m always afraid people will think I’m chasing her. She always says I’m just paranoid, but apparently not! Great stories.
Hey chris where do you get your 6 degree reamers for chairs and tables
Lee Valley Tools
Great post Chris!
29 years in my shop on the main street of town. So many friends. That’s my fear as I retire to a little shop 6 miles out. I’ll be headed for coffee in town often.
Power to local businesses! Having something handmade is always better than buying a factory made product. Great post
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