As Jory Brigham walks around his workspace — past the table saws, sanders and other tools of his trade — it’s clear that he’s right where he belongs.
He points out a bandsaw from the 1930s that he bought off Craigslist. “Back in the day, things were built to last,” he said. “I like that they were made so well.”
To Brigham, the focus on quality, timeless furnishings is a driving force behind his work. The company, Jory Brigham Design, sells high-end, custom-made chairs, tables, desks, benches and other one-of-a-kind pieces built from walnut — which he favors for its stability — white oak, teak and some metal. He also incorporates vintage fabrics into his furniture, infusing color, warmth and softness.
Brigham’s designs can best be described as mid-century, with a hint of Asian influence. It’s a style that’s popular with many clients, particularly in Australia, Canada, Europe and New York. His headquarters is in San Luis Obispo, but he has showrooms in New York and Toronto, and is working on opening another in San Francisco. Furniture pieces range from $2,000 to $30,000.
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While Brigham’s business is thriving today, success didn’t come immediately. As a young man, he wasn’t sure that he would build furniture, despite having exposure at an early age to woodworking and being from a family of craftsmen, woodworkers and architects.
Brigham learned the art of woodworking from his carpenter father, Tim Brigham, who studied architecture at Cal Poly, and he worked for a time with his father, as well as his uncle John Brigham, who makes rustic wooden furniture pieces locally. Brigham’s great-grandfather, John Van Bergen, was Frank Lloyd Wright’s chief draftsman.
“I remember figuring out that I could take a table saw and do all kinds of stuff with it,” said Brigham, who, as a fan of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, once made a bowie knife when he was 5 or 6 years old. “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t have to just cut a straight line.’ ”
It wasn’t until after Brigham left Hawaii, where he was raised, that he began to see a future working with wood. When he was 18, Brigham relocated to California, where his parents and a sister were already living, and enrolled at Cuesta College.
He quickly realized that school was not a good fit and started to work for his uncle John Brigham, who was selling pieces in Carmel and at Hands Gallery in San Luis Obispo.
At that point, Jory Brigham was branching out, designing and building his own pieces, and starting to get noticed.
I remember figuring out that I could take a table saw and do all kinds of stuff with it. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t have to just cut a straight line.’
When he was 19, Brigham got a big break when Eli Parker, the son of Fess Parker (an actor who played Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone), saw one of his pieces and asked him if he wanted to move to Los Olivos to work for the Parker family. Soon, Brigham had his own tools and shop.
“They let me build whatever I wanted,” said Brigham, who worked for the Parkers for two years. “It was a huge blessing.”
After leaving the Parker family, Brigham worked for his father, all the while developing and honing his own style. He opened Jory Brigham Design in 2008, and while it has continued to grow, Brigham is careful about too much growth. In all, he has made about 125 furniture pieces. Last year, about 30 to 35 pieces were produced.
“Small companies can take those risks,” he said. “They are the ones that pave the way.”
Brigham, who finds much of his inspiration from nature and the warmth of the Danish furniture that surrounded him as a child, said this is an exciting time for the business.
This year, he won a Spike TV reality competition, “Framework,” which featured 13 furniture designers competing in challenges over a period of 10 weeks. The prize was $100,000, $20,000 in gift cards to a hardware store and a contract with CB2, which he is turning down to focus on his own brand.
For Brigham, staying true to himself and his designs is paramount.
“People need to do their passion,” said Brigham, who would like one day to craft an outdoor firebowl, foosball table and pool table. “Everyone was meant to do something, and if you find that, stick to it, and you’ll probably get to be better at that than anyone else.”
Jory Brigham Design
Business: The San Luis Obispo firm offers handcrafted, high-end furnishings made from sustainable materials.
Year founded: 2008
Owner: Jory Brigham, 36
Annual revenues/profits: Declined to disclose, but Brigham said annual revenues have grown 25 percent for the past two years and are expected to grow an additional 35 percent by the end of this year.
City of residence: Los Osos with wife, Ali, and two children, Parker, 6, and Bozley, 5.