interview condensed and edited by EJ Toudt
As the owner of Benevolent Design Company, you make some beautiful furniture. How did you get into that?
I have been using tools my whole life, and about five years ago, I was not content with what I was doing, the corporate career that I was in. I know it’s the cool thing to say these days like, “I wasn’t happy in corporate America,” but I was in sales and between my personal life and my work life, I needed to make a change. The beginning of my furniture making career started when I had a friend ask me to build a bar for her. Afterwards, a bunch of people jokingly said that I should open an Etsy account, so I did. After that I decided I was going to make furniture for the rest of my life. And here I am!
Were there other careers you thought about?
I can look back at every aspect of my life, starting from when I was a little kid, and they all point to where I am today. From painting when I was 6 years old and working with trim and that turned into building decks for people when I was in high school and college. I’ve always been obsessed with old cars. I have an old ‘65 Chevy that was my grandfathers that I restored my first year out of college. So everything I was interested in seemed to point me into this type of a career.
Which local and state breweries carry your work?
Back Bay Brewing Company in Virginia Beach gave me my first shot. I have to give them more credit than anybody else because there is no reason they should have let me do what I did. (Laughs). I think Josh (Canada) saw my passion for furniture making. That was five years ago. Since then my company Benevolent Designs has worked on a brewery in Harrisonburg, Virginia, (called) Restless Moons Brewing. I also worked on Smartmouth Brewing’s Pilot House in Virginia Beach and just finished up here at Farmhouse Brewing. We … have also done restaurants in the area like Esoteric, Commune, Pizza Chapel, Taste, and others.
If you could only build one thing over and over again what would it be?
It probably wouldn’t be furniture. Furniture to me is more of a means to an end. The bar stool that I built over five years ago today doesn’t challenge me. What challenges me is building up people to be better than what they were yesterday. For instance, the guys that work in my shop; I get more satisfaction and passion out of educating those guys, having a positive influence on them and helping them build a better future for themselves. I get tremendous satisfaction out of building leaders and people who are going to make an impact on the community around us. One of my end goals is to start a nonprofit that would help businesses like mine or like North End Bag Company and Three Ships Coffee become successful; to help creative people with the business side of business.
What is your favorite tool?
One of my favorite tools to use is my welder. I say that because I feel I am no longer a grinder but a true welder. I have taken it and turned it into an art, in my own mind, and trust me I know there are other people out there that are better than me, but I have really made it a passion to hone in and be the best I can possibly be. I feel very confident with a MIG welder and I have started TIG welding, which is more of an art form.
What is Benevolent Design working on now?
We have a couple of big jobs …, Taste is expanding to Richmond, we are helping out with that. we are also building out the new Beecroft & Bull retail location in the old Dan Ryan’s menswear store in the Hilltop shopping area of Virginia Beach.
So we’ve noticed that you also dabble a little in modeling. How did you get started in that?
Talk about a relationship that has gone full circle – it’s such a small world. My dad used to be part owner of Dan Ryan’s. My uncle is Dan Ryan. My dad is Frank Ryan. They had a falling out at some point and my dad bounced around a bit, but clothing has always been his passion. He ended up working at Beecroft & Bull, and worked there for a long period of time before he passed away three years ago. Dan and my dad patched things up over the years, by the way – just wanted to add that. Anyway, after my dad passed away, Craig Beecroft approached me and said, “We do a magazine twice a year and we are going to dedicate this one to your father and would love for you to be a part of it.” Ever since, I have modeled in their magazines for them.
Have you ever been shy in from of the camera?
No, I’ve never been asked to do something that would make me get shy in front of the camera. And even with modeling, I have only worked with a few people and Mark Atkinson, the photographer, is the man, so he makes me feel comfortable and confident.
Do you starve yourself before a shoot?
When you strike a pose, what’s going on in your head?
I’m big into meditation. Nine times out of 10, I am actually thinking about breathing and meditation and consciousness and things like that more than anything else. Is that weird?
Have you ever been recognized as the Beecroft & Bull guy?
Yeah! I’ve gotten numerous text messages with photos of the advertisements from all over the place. I got one once from Charlottesville not too long ago. I think it was from a UVA game; they had something in their program or something like that.
Have you ever done an underwear shoot?
What amount of money would you do an underwear shoot for?
Oh man (thinks) 50 bucks! (Laughs)
Have you ever done a little turn on the catwalk?
No! I have never been on the catwalk! I don’t have any desire to be on the catwalk.
Are you too sexy for that shirt? So sexy it hurts?
(Laughs) No… No…
Beers Consumed During Interview
Two Atlantic Ave IPAs from Back Bay Brewing Company