Minnesota woodworker Brian Grabski founded the company Designed & Made in 2005 after graduating from The University of Colorado in Boulder. Grabski honed his woodworking abilities each summer while working in cabinet shops through college, and he combined his technical experience with his education when he opened his own business. At his Minneapolis, MN shop, Grabski takes on requests for custom interiors, kitchen cabinets, office furniture, dining tables, bureaus, and pool tables.
What is your background in woodworking?
I had a great wood shop teacher in high school who got me excited about woodworking. His name was Geoff Olynik. He would always come in early and stay late to open up the shop for his students so we could build larger projects. My junior year I built an 8' pool table that won 1st place at the MN State Fair's woodworking competition. From there I worked in different shops every summer learning the trade throughout high school and college. After graduation from the University of Colorado in Boulder, I moved back to Minneapolis where I reconnected with a family friend of ours who had a wood shop set up and I began renting space from him and that's when I started my company.
How was it starting Designed & Made in 2005?
The early years were a little difficult at times being that I was young and not many people knew who I was. That being said, I was working for my self and doing what I always wanted to do earlier that I though I'd be doing it. At that time it was all about keeping the lights on and building up a portfolio. I made a habit out of over delivering and running a lean business.
How has your business developed since then? What is the majority of your work?
My referral pool has grown, and I'm working with more builders and interior designers that feed me with repeat business. The majority of the work I do now is high-end custom cabinetry. Every now and then I'll also also snag a commission for a piece of custom furniture.
You mention you like collaborating with others. Does this ever create conflict?
How many projects have you and Van Klei taken on together?
This kitchen was our 9th one together. That being said, Chris and I have been doing construction projects and odd jobs together since high school. Everything from basement remodels to back yard fences.
You mentioned you learn a lot from the people you work with. Has this been especially important in your career?
Yes. The main reason I'm where I'm at now is because of the people who have helped me along the way. When you surround yourself with talented people it feeds into what you're doing. Everyone I've worked with brings a different skill set to the table. That's the best part about the collaboration process.
Shared spaces are becoming increasingly popular. How has your experience been with Nordeast Makers?
It's been great. Nordeast Makers gives me access to machinery that I that I normally wouldn't have access to. Currently, I don't have the floor space for a CNC. Making the jump into a larger shop and investing in a CNC router is going to be a lot less risky now that I've been able to learn the CAM software and how to run the machine. Buying a CNC knowing that it's going to take month to get it up and running would be a tough decision. Nordeast Makers makes it possible for a guy like me to become comfortable running the machine before making the investment. That way when I'm ready to pull the trigger on my own, I'll be able to hit the ground running as soon as it's set up.
The other great thing about that space is there are several other people in there doing projects that are completely different than what I'm working on. Some of the work being done on the laser cutter there is a huge inspiration. Hanging out in a space like that and making friends with those guys can only help.
You've mentioned the process to achieve a high level of detail is very different from traditional craftsmen. Do you find it as challenging to master modern technology as it is to master traditional woodworking?
I don't think it's challenging, but that's only because I have the Dalai Llama of CAD and all his connections in my corner. If it wasn't for Mike Prom's help, I think mastering modern technology as a small, low volume shop would be cost prohibitive.
What is the strangest custom request you’ve ever received?
My brother's fiance wanted me to make a "Love Arch" for their wedding. Unfortunately, I didn't have time in my schedule to do it and I didn't think I'd be able to make it for a reasonable price compared to what they could buy one for at a garden supply store.
What advice do you have for younger woodworkers who are either starting out, or already working for companies but looking to start their own businesses?
Make friends with a photographer. Quality photography is gold. Have an elevator pitch with your five best photos organized on your smartphone. Have kick-a** business cards. If people don't say, "Wow, nice card" when you're handing them out get new ones. Don't beat yourself up when you make mistakes. Think of it as paying for your education. Be patient and keep in mind that it takes time to make a name for yourself. Apparently it took Bruce Springsteen 8 years to get discovered, and he's the boss...
Anything they should avoid?
Avoid hanging out with people who wine and bring you down.
Anything else you would like to include?
Always go out of your way to give credit to the people who help you out.
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