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The Garden Bench

So this happened in my workshop recently. I’m not writing about it because I think it is the next great thing in furniture design. Let’s be realistic, its not an Eames chair or a Milo Baughman sofa or anything. It started its life as a wish list item for the client on a limited budget. So I pulled out my magic wand, donned my fairy godmother costume and set about making her wish come true….forgetting that I was going to actually build “something like this” item from a picture that she sent via Facebook Messenger and build it to her specifications within her budget….by myself. Which brings me back around to my point (are you still with me?)….the reason that I am writing about it is that I built it by myself – I picked up the wood by myself (well, with a bit of guidance and muscle from my good friends at Lowe’s), came up with a design by myself, cut the pieces by myself, screwed, glued, and nailed them together by myself, sanded it by myself, finished it by myself, redesigned it by myself (when the client realized that my caution about changing the dimensions proved to be prophetic), modified it by myself, and finally sold it BY MYSELF.

Now, being the sort of person who habitually searches for order in the universe, I needed to make sense of this little project even as it evolved. Since this bench would be outside and exposed to the elements, the client and I agreed on pressure treated lumber rather than teak or cedar in order to stay within her budget. The budget allowed little time to be devoted finishing so the wood was rough looking. The client is a fan of reclaimed, vintage finishes anyway so that was ok with her. Given that I was learning as I went, I intentionally tried to keep the assembly simple. I admit, I wondered if people who saw the piece would “get it” or just think that it was a mediocre effort. In the end, a story emerged in my mind – sort of an alternate history of this piece.


It was the story of a farmer and his wife who lived on a large farm. She requested that her husband build a bench to keep her garden tools in. One rainy Tuesday morning after breakfast, the farmer stands by his window looking out at the gray sky; the steady drizzle running down the window panes, the steady tapping of the drops on the tin roof. He quickly concludes that work in the fields is not an option and scratches his head wondering what he can do to make this day a productive one. His wife’s footsteps can be heard on the floor above as she moves purposefully from room making beds and gathering up laundry. He thinks of the bench and wanders out the barn to scavenge for wood and materials for the project. Within a few short hours he comes to the covered porch with the finished project. Being a practical man, he wastes no more time than necessary on the finish, giving it a quick coat of white wash leftover from the recently built hen house. The bench was solid enough to last years and years on the porch where it weathered until the couple eventually passed it along to their daughter who had just recently purchased her first home.

garden bench.jpg

Yes, mistakes were made, screws were stripped, blood was shed, curses were uttered (with apologies to my neighbors and the tender ears of their small children), and my sanity was questioned, but at the end of it all, I am proud to have produced what may well be the most over-designed, over-built, one-of-a-kind garden bench in the history of garden benches. Here is the thing, in the end the client was happy, I made a little bit of money, and I learned A LOT, and gained a lot of confidence when I found out that I could do something I wasn’t at all sure I could do. So the moral of the story is this… something that scares you every day – take risks, dare to dream, say yes…and the wishes that come true might be yours in addition to those of your clients!

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