on orders over $100
BOARD & BREAD
Emily Brock is the owner and creator at Board & Bread workshop, a Nashville based studio hand crafting functional kitchen goods and homewares. As a 3rd generation woodworker, she follows a great-grandfather who was a staircase maker, and a father who has been honing his craft since well before Emily was born. Today her father's woodworking focuses on the patient, artisan skill of creating sculptured furniture.
Emily came to woodworking by a rich personal desire to experience cooking and eating in what now sometimes seems like an old world tradition - thoughtfully, simply, and intentionally. The simple details are what transform the experience for her. A small wooden bowl of sea salt at the table, a glass carafe of water and heavy bottomed glasses, natural light streaming in over hand hewn tables... these details of dining and sharing life over food are what inspired Board & Bread into existence.
We caught up with Emily to talk about her inspiration, design process and favorite things.
What drew you to continue the family history of working with wood?
I grew up with a father who had been woodworking since the 70's, and his grandfather also had been a woodworker. He built staircases. My dad originally focused on arts and crafts style furniture, and in his early 50's reemerged as a fine furniture designer and artist now making sculptured furniture. The lines of his pieces, the subtle feminine “S” curves as he called them, they made his work. I completely followed his form without realizing it once I got started. Our lines are very similar, and we both aren’t afraid to take off enough material (with the knowledge of not taking it too far for functionality,) to make wood seem sexy and delicate. Also - the proof of both our work is in the finish. My sanding process is incredibly intense, but it yields silky smooth results. You forget its wood. I then use a blend of oil and wax that I make to protect the pieces and make them shine with a matte finish. The first project I ever did in the shop was a pedestal cake stand that he helped me make on the lathe. I got to do bits and pieces of the actual work (he was terrified I’d hurt myself,) and then all the sanding, but once we put the first coat of oil on the walnut stand I was hooked. It could easily be identified as my most important professional, creative memory to date.
You spent your childhood in Georgia, how has that influenced your style and the way you work?
Oh wow, I've never really thought about this before. I think my childhood was overall incredibly devoid of worldly culture. Until I went off to college, the most I knew about “design” or real trends came from my occasional trips to Atlanta to visit my sister. She’d take me to Anthropologie and I thought it was heaven. I spent a lot of time watching my dad work in his shop as a kid, but I had no context for his style or what he was contributing to the spectrum of woodworking. I would never ever recommend not leaving home for college, unless you grew up in NYC, Portland, LA, or somewhere like that. College is all about exposure, to anything and everything. In college I followed a graphic design degree through to graduation, but the real meat of my college years was investing myself in the community. I went to the University of Georgia, which is a huge public University, but the town, Athens, Georgia is a true gem. I worked for a small batch coffee roaster while in college, and except for Board & Bread, it is still the best job I ever had. The philosophy of the business was (and is) all about transparency of production (from seed to cup,) and quality. At this job I learned what kind of business owner I wanted to be.
"Making food, sharing meals, the community, and the details of the experience became a way of life for me, a source of comfort and inspiration."
At what point did you realize you wanted to start Board & Bread and develop a business with your wood working skills?
I am one of those people who just can’t sit still if they are unhappy with what they do every day. It blows my mind that my parents did the same job, every day, for 30 years. I was working at a design agency as a graphic designer out in Washington state. I had the whole idea of Board & Bread in my head for at least a year before I even started buying any shop tools. After I had visited my parents in Georgia and talked my dad into making a pedestal cake stand with me, I knew this was something I was really interested in. During the recession (which at its worst was the year of my college graduation,) I had worked in a lot of bakeries and pastry kitchens. I also had really fallen headfirst into cooking and baking during my free time at home. Making food, sharing meals, the community, and the details of the experience became a way of life for me, a source of comfort and inspiration. I am always all about the details and finding beauty in the everyday. I really tried to start curating kitchen tools and serving ware that I found reflected those ideas, and I had a lot of trouble with the kitchen tools specifically. Everything I found in stores was either cheap, not durable, or poorly designed or executed. So I finally just got so fed up with having the “day job” life and I bought a bandsaw and some basic carving tools and started making spoons and some serving boards and it just took off from there. I knew how badly I needed to be doing my own thing, so it wasn’t too long before I was developing my branding and starting my website. It took about 8-10 months from there to really get established with some solid designs and start growing.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to turn their craft into a viable business?
I think first and foremost you need to be absolutely passionate about what you’re doing. If you’re not, you’ll burn out pretty quick. Also - if you don’t absolutely believe in what you’re doing, why would your customers? If you’re doing things right, you’ll most likely be working WAY MORE than you ever worked with a regular job. You suddenly have like 10 jobs, instead of one. It’s amazing how little time I spend actually woodworking some weeks. I definitely think that unless you have a lot of savings, you’ll need to keep a second job at least part-time for a good while. Until you’re earning a manageable living for 3-5 months in a row, you probably aren’t ready to switch over to full-time, even though it seems like you can’t do it all unless you go cold turkey with the other job. Trust me, HAVING to make a sale to live is a bad place to be. You no longer get to be creative, because you’re desperate to make money. Take it one step at a time.
Do you have any mentors who have inspired you?
I am a religious follower of Grace Bonney and her podcast After the Jump. Working by myself and for myself can drive me crazy sometimes. Listening to her podcast that is chock full of advice on being a creative, a designer, a small business owner is so inspirational. I would definitely say my Dad is my biggest mentor. We are EXACTLY alike, so we butt heads all the time, but primarily he is just a huge source of knowledge for me. He will help me troubleshoot my methods when something isn’t working, and he is a constant reminder of doing something because you love it, not because you want to put it on the internet.
What is your favorite part of working by / for yourself? How do you stay creative?
I think being able to make my own schedule overall is one of the best parts of doing your own thing. I still work 8-10 hours a day, but if I need to run errands, or want to get to get lunch with a friend I have that freedom. Also - I’m so NOT a morning person, so not having to set an alarm and race to get to some job on time is EPIC for me.
I definitely have my bouts with feeling a lack of creativity, especially in the winter months… but overall I do my best to stay on top of my favorite design blogs, Pinterest boards and other social media. I’m constantly taking screen shots on my phone of images that inspire me, and then (hopefully) I organize them later and revisit them when I’m ready for a new project. I’m really not much of a sketcher, even though I feel like I’m supposed to be. I usually sketch right onto the wood, unless I’ve got to do a lot of math to figure out a certain design.
What about your daily life inspires the products you make?
Since day one my husband and I were the kind of people who preferred to unwind at the end of the day by cooking something delicious. We always try to start the day together as well, making breakfast. This gives me a chance at least once or twice a day to use kitchen utensils and serving ware, see what I like about what I’m using and what items I can improve upon or dream into existence. I’ve also been working to put a lot more focus on housewares like the lighting fixtures I introduced last year. I’ve got a lot of ideas in the works for other house items as well. In general my designs come out of a personal need or want for something in my home, which is great because I end up with all the weird prototypes!
What is the process for designing / creating a new product?
Like I said before, I’m not a sketcher, so I usually get inspired by a personal want for a certain object, or I’ll see something online, in a magazine, or out in the world that inspires me and I’ll let it fester in my mind for a few weeks. If I’m still thinking about it by that point, then I know I should give it a go, and I’ll start making some prototypes. Also, sometimes my customers or shop owners that carry my work will mention something they’d love to see from me. If it feels in line with the style and goals of my body of work, I’ll usually give it a go. There’s nothing wrong with letting your fans help drive your business in the right direction, as long as you stay true to yourself.
"There’s nothing wrong with letting your fans help drive your business in the right direction, as long as you stay true to yourself."
What plans do you have for Board & Bread for the future?
I’m working on some partnerships with a few tastemakers or designers that I really respect, which is very exciting. I also have some projects in the works that involve using my work as sculptural installation in shops or restaurants, which I definitely want to do more of. Developing more designs for the home is definitely on my short list as well.
What do you love about living in Nashville?
The creative community in Nashville is definitely the best part. It’s certainly a southern mecca for artists and designers of all types. Also, it doesn't have that LA vibe where everyone is just out for themselves, everyone here is really open and willing to introduce you to the right person, or collaborate with you.
Favorite shops or markets?
The Nashville Flea Market is one of my favorite things about the city. It is the last weekend of every month and it’s huge! It can be hit or miss, but usually I’ll strike at least one great deal on something amazing. As far as farmer’s markets go, I will usually make the drive down to Franklin, Tennessee (about 20-25 minutes,) which is an old historic civil war town to go to their farmers market. It has the best selection of meats and produce from local farmers.
Best local eateries?
My favorite eateries would have to be Rolf & Daughters in Germantown, which is probably the cornerstone restaurant of the foodie scene in Nashville. You can’t go wrong with anything on their ever-changing menu. The pastas, the proteins, its all excellent, fresh and seasonal without ever being fussy. I’d also vouch for Butchertown Hall which is a new joint also in Germantown. It’s got a great vibe, and the protein heavy menu includes many delicious house smoked meats and probably the best burger in town. The drink menu is an insane collection of draft beers, many brewed just for Butchertown, and then spirits are all tequila and mezcal.
Best place to escape the city?
Leiper’s Fork is my favorite close escape. It is another historic town, out in the middle of Tennessee farmland. A lot of the country music stars live out in this area, and so Leiper’s fork has really grown as a little town to include some great food and little shops to visit. There are all these fire pits out front of the storefronts with rocking chairs surrounding them. You can just go sit and visit, get a beer at Puckett’s and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
What is your ideal weekend like?
Haha, one where I’m not working! I usually work through the weekend, but ideally it would involve going to the farmers market on Saturday morning, maybe meeting up with some friends for dinner or drinks. Depending on the season, we love to go to the park or go for a hike.