A friend recently saw a picture of one of my kitchen jobs and remarked “You get to work in such cool places.” It’s true. I do, some of the time — though let’s acknowledge that one person’s cool is another person’s yawn (or worse).
In the process of collecting images for the book I’m writing for Lost Art Press, I recently received photos of a kitchen I did in Washington D.C. that certainly qualifies as cool in my view, and its coolness has everything to do with the client’s interest in her home’s history. You can read about the job and see more pictures here.
But I imagine many readers would be just as interested in how I came to get such a job in the first place. I don’t live some charmed existence where cool gigs just drop out of the sky into my lap. I’ve spent years cultivating my niche in the kitchen and furniture worlds.
In this case the client, Lauri Hafvenstein, attended a talk I gave on designing period kitchens at a trade show and conference in the D.C. area in 2009. For years I’d seen notices about the Traditional Building Show (formerly called the Restoration and Renovation Conference) in Old-House Interiors and Old-House Journal, which I’ve subscribed to since the mid-1990s. About 20 years ago I decided to apply as a presenter.
I can’t speak about how the event operates today because I haven’t taken part in several years, but in the past, most speakers were not paid to present their work, nor were our travel and accommodation expenses covered. You wrote a proposal and submitted it, knowing that if you were accepted as a speaker you would make the trip on your own dime. Why bother? you ask. This kind of event can be a great way to make professional connections with people in your field. That’s why I presented at three or four of these events over the years.
It can be hard to gauge the return on such investment if you don’t get jobs directly from them. Lauri’s job, the most hardcore period kitchen on which I’ve worked, is the single one I can attribute directly to any of my presentations.* And even if I hadn’t developed other friendships and professional connections over the years through my participation in these events, this kitchen would have made the writing, the travel expenses, and the shop time lost while out of town worthwhile.
— Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work
*Full disclosure: If I recall correctly, she had also purchased and read my book The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History, which made her notice my name in the conference schedule.