Furniture Design | How To Home Podcast #025

Furniture Design | HTH 025

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Transcript

Aaron:
Welcome
back to another episode of the How to Home podcast. My name’s Aaron Massey
joined along Tracy Pendergast, and today, we’ve got Patrick Cain from Patrick
Cain Designs. We are chatting about some custom furniture. You’re going to
outfit your home with some custom furniture, this is the guy to do it.
Aaron:
You
get confused for the hockey player, Patrick Cain a lot?
Patrick:
I
was in Chicago the day that he punched his cab driver with a reporting pass
with ESPN, and people thought that I was messing with them the whole time. And
I’m like, “No, this is my name.”
Aaron:
Different
spelling.
Patrick:
Different
spelling.
Aaron:
So,
we’re doing to dive into some questions. Why don’t you give us a little bit of
background on how you got here.
Patrick:
So,
I took the least direct path you can to get to having a furniture line. I
started off in college as a nuclear materials engineer, working at Los Alamos
National Laboratory. It just wasn’t for me because I remember at that time, I’d
get home from work or get back to the trailer I was living within … the
trailer that I was living in New Mexico, and my girlfriend and my mother would
call and like, “Oh, how’s work today?” And I’d be like,
“Classified”, and that kills the conversation. When “How’s your
day?” “Classified” is the dialogue, it’s going no where.
Patrick:
So,
after that, I went back to school, not back to it. The summer ended. I’d go
back to next year in college, maybe in my third year, and I was like, “I just
kind of want to take a class in journalism” because I wanted to stretch my
brain a little bit, left brain, right brain balance, and I loved it. I
absolutely loved it. Took off. Covered the 06 elections in Ohio, which for the
political junkies out there, they know it’s such an important state, so I had
some amazing opportunities.
Patrick:
Eventually,
I move out to Los Angeles to cover the stock market oddly for a national
newspaper, and at that time or around that time, I wanted to start building a
home. But, a journalist’s salary doesn’t get you far. It definitely doesn’t get
you nice furniture. So, eventually at one point, I just started … I was
sanding a piece of wood for a stepping stone that I was going to use as a
stepping stone as I walk up to my building. I was dating a girl who, true
story, just had multiple personality disorder, and I didn’t know it.
Patrick:
So,
she would tell these stories, and I’m like, “This doesn’t make
sense.” But, a little mantra I had at the time was or looking back on the
time is ‘two plus two can equal giraffe if you’re in love.’ So, I’d make her
stories work, and I’d do that while sanding this live edge disc of wood that I
was going to use as a stepping stone.
Patrick:
By
the time I realized this is just a one-way ticket to crazy train or on the
crazy train, I asked a guy I had met at a party months before. “Hey, what
do you think of this?” And he’s like, “Looks like a table to me. I’d
put some hairpin legs on it.” I was like, “I completely agree.”
So, I go home, and I Google hairpin legs because I don’t know what that means
at the time. For those at home who don’t know what that means, it’s fine. It’s
just the V-shaped little thin metal legs that you see on a lot of side tables,
and I made a table.
Patrick:
My
best friend at the time, who I had met while I was writing for ESPN, he was my
photographer on a story, and we became good friends. He took a picture of it. I
didn’t know what to do with this beautiful picture and this beautiful table,
but I knew I had ten other pieces of wood that I was going to use as stepping
stones, and I saw them all as potential tables.
Patrick:
I
put it on Craigslist because that’s how I thought you sell things. Craigslist
is not how you sell things.
Tracy:
It’s
how you get abducted.
Patrick:
Yes.
But, I sold it, and I was like, “Oh my god. If I sell two of these, I’ll
be in the black.” It’ll cover my orbital sander. It’ll cover my belt
sander. It’ll cover $5 an hour of my time. I had a very high value of my time.
And I sold two of them, and slowly but surely, just kept adding one after
another, it became … Initially, it was you would order, and I’d make it. And
then, I started carrying a line, and I started expanding the line, and it just
really happened organically. I wish there was a quick and easy to answer to how
did I become a furniture designer. There isn’t. It was just all of a sudden, I
was a furniture designer because of really organic baby steps.
Tracy:
Wow.
How did you have the skills that you—
Patrick:
Oh,
I didn’t.
Tracy:
Oh,
okay.
Patrick:
Don’t
fool yourself. I didn’t.
Tracy:
Okay,
so how did you learn?
Patrick:
My
landlord at the time, who I lived next to, who was my West Coast father, was a
master craftsman. He had built houses here in L.A. He was a master electrician
in Chicago, and I’d go to him with questions. He’d slap me around and make fun
of me, but in the process, I would learn how to do things.
Patrick:
Between
him and the reality that in America, we have a generation of aging master
craftsmen who’s father, most likely, but maybe mother, was also a master
craftman, who’s grandparents were also master craftsmen. But, this generation
isn’t taking it up. There’s these adults nearing retirement who do not have an
heir apparent, and they’re everywhere. All they want to do is tell you how to
do things right, and I was more than willing to listen.
Patrick:
I
think that goes into being a journalist is being willing to ask a stupid
question and hear out the answer is really valuable. Even still today, not
knowing how to do something is just as valuable as coming in with skillsets. In
fact, most of the people I hire at my company don’t know how to do anything.
They just want to work, and they have a creative eye.
Tracy:
So,
it’s more about staying interested for you. That’s been where a lot of your
inspiration comes from, just staying interesting, learning.
Patrick:
It’s
keeping your eyes open for things you like, and having a curiosity of how does
that get done. Once you know how to make that, then tweak it a little to make
something new that’s not being done, and have your own little fingerprint on
it.
Aaron:
Yeah,
so how would you define, I guess, the style of stuff that you do as it has
evolved? If you look at some of the stuff that you’ve done, a lot of it is
minimal materials or—
Patrick:
So,
we started mid-century modern with the live edge tables and hairpin legs, which
is a good place to start because mid-century modern will forever sell. But, I
really quickly found myself getting into a minimalist contemporary vibe of just
living a very idealized life where you don’t have clutter and stuff because
it’s how I would like to live even though I have a ton of clutter and I have a
ton of stuff.
Patrick:
But
recently, we have taken almost an opposite approach, and it’s a brutalist vibe
and a little touch of Memphis. So, just definitions here. Memphis is a design
style. It started in the early 80s in Italy, best described as Peewee Herman or
Saved By the Bell. We’re talking wild zigzag colors and boldish shapes and
things that are just kind of ridiculous.
Patrick:
Brutalism
is a 70s, 80s, maybe a little 60s too, style that was big, concrete, almost
like … The style itself, or at least to me, maybe this is what it is. I’m not
a design expert, but the style itself was kind of a Soviet Union-inspired
scare, like “The Soviets are coming.” So, you’d build these giant
concrete building, which were both aesthetically beautiful but also really
pending.
Patrick:
So,
our furniture line right now is big, monolithic, concrete items with a soft
Memphis-y touch. So, that’s where we’ve evolved, and where we’re going next,
who knows?
Tracy:
That’s
cool.
Aaron:
So,
tell us about your company. So, how many people do you have? How many guys do
you have working for you?
Patrick:
I’m
going to correct you right there. Guys, right now? One. Women? Four. Actually,
those numbers might be off. We’ll go over that. I realized the other day, and
I’m very proud to acknowledge this, that if you include my therapist and my
girlfriend as part of Team PCD, Team PCD represents all six inhabitable
continents in the world.
Tracy:
Wow.
Patrick:
So,
we have me and my shop leader, Jen. Then, Nassily. Then, there’s Lizzie, Handy,
Frankie J. Yep, that’s the team. So, one guy working, one guy intern, two women
working, one female intern.
Tracy:
And
what’s the workflow in your shop? Is it collaborative with design?
Patrick:
Very
collaborative. So, being that I don’t come from a design background or even a
crafts-y background, I didn’t own a tool until six year ago. And that’s not
because I knew how to use tools, and I’d go use somebody else’s shop. I didn’t
know how to use tools six years ago pretty much. I want everyone in the shop to
be able to do a little bit of everything, and once we figure out what you’re good
at, you’ll work your way in there.
Patrick:
But,
it’s really collaborative where every single day, I tell people, “Remind
me if you see something you like, let me know.” In fact, just recently,
Jen and I were debating on this new color pattern we’re using on our concrete
monoliths. I was like, “I just don’t think these colors work. They’re too
close.” She’s like, “No, I love that they’re so close.” So, we
did a few tests, and she’s right. Once we did a few tests, I was like,
“No, I’m on your side now. This is what we’re doing”, and it’s going
to create a whole new series. In the shop, we’re calling it Color Blinds
because is that two colors? I can’t really … It kind of messes with your
eyes, and I love it.
Tracy:
Are
you hiring because we … That sounds like you’re a really amazing boss, and I
don’t even know if you probably like the word boss from the way it sounds like.
Aaron:
What’s
your shop like? What’s a day in the life of the shop like? How does the whole
thing operate?
Patrick:
I
really wish there was more of a normalized flow, and I think that’s one of the
goals for the year. But, the problem is, every week is so different.
Patrick:
So,
right now, I have one or two people making big concrete monoliths. Another
person and me probably working on packing because we have three or four large
projects ready to ship in the next two weeks. Whenever there’s downtime because
there’s always downtime with concrete, I’m stressing, cleaning, cleaning,
cleaning, cleaning because I’m a mess, a mess, a mess.
Patrick:
So,
there is not too much of a flow right now, but that’s probably where I’m most
valuable in my own company is seeing the big picture and, “Okay, if we
organize everything this way, we can maximize a day.” Then, I leave a lot
of the flow to my shop manager, Jen.
Tracy:
How
did you get into concrete?
Patrick:
I
just always kind of liked that look of I call it the Lowe’s Home Depot floors
of that shiny concrete, Lowe’s more than Home Depot. And it was just trying,
trying, trying, trying until we learned all the tricks and trades of the trade,
and we’re still learning them today.
Tracy:
What’s
your favorite material to work with?
Patrick:
Oh,
it’s definitely concrete.
Tracy:
Concrete?
Patrick:
It’s
just so … I love welding. We don’t do too much of it anymore, but welding is
just really empowering, when you’re melting two metals together, you kind of
feel like a superhero.
Tracy:
Yeah.
Patrick:
But
concrete, you can do so much with it that is so contrary to what people think
the material is.
Tracy:
What’s
the shipping like on—
Patrick:
It’s
hellish.
Tracy:
Does
everything shipped together assembled?
Patrick:
So,
there are some pieces through our new line. Monoliths, the name implies it’s
just one big piece, so there’s one big piece. But, tables, sometimes the top
and the bottom separate, but if you order an 8 foot by 4 foot dining table
that’s concrete or a concrete top, you’re going to get an 8 foot by 4 foot piece
of concrete. So, the shipping’s a lot one way or another. It’s a constant
debate of how you handle shipping. Do you absorb the costs and make the price
sky high? Or do you make people think they’re going to buy a table until
checkout, and they see shipping’s $800 bucks to New York?
Tracy:
Right.
Patrick:
So,
right now, we’re kind of absorbing most of the costs. Constantly looking for
ways to get it to be less.
Tracy:
Would
you consider opening a shop on another coast possibly?
Patrick:
Absolutely.
I am already looking at an East Coast location.
Aaron:
Who’s
your client base? Who do you get approached by most often? Is it homeowners?
Businesses?
Patrick:
Yeah,
so right now, we’re transitioning from direct to consumer to more business to
business, that is, interior designers. But, I have a large presence on Etsy,
which a lot of people think, “Why would you be on Etsy?” But, the
reality with concrete is, you have a lot of go-backs. You have a lot of imperfect
pieces that I cannot risk to ship to New York at full price, and then someone
says, “Oh, but it’s not perfect.” And then, I have to ship it back.
So, I sell my secondhands on Etsy, which has gotten me a really good client
base.
Patrick:
Also,
I sell at the Rose Bowl flea market still.
Tracy:
I
love that flea market.
Patrick:
People
never think they’d find me there because the Rose Bowl flea market, if you’ve
got furniture, it’s either rusty metal or barn wood, which are two things I
just don’t touch. And then, all of a sudden, you turn the corner, and you have
this totally clean minimalist design, and they’re like, “What are you
doing here?”
Patrick:
But,
I’ve designed pieces for the Solo House because I met the Solo House designer
at the Rose Bowl.
Tracy:
That’s
awesome. It’s a great networking spot too.
Patrick:
Yeah,
there’s a hotelier who buys my stuff. She’s designed in 9000 hotels. I met her
at the Rose Bowl. So, it’s also a great way to get rid of secondhand things.
Tracy:
Yeah,
that’s a great tip because I know we have a lot of makers that listen to the
show, and I think a lot of people want to know once you start making things as
your job, does some of the fun go away? Is it hard? Do you still enjoy it?
Patrick:
Oh,
no. There’s absolutely a loss of fun when it becomes your job. Everyone always
says, “Do what you love.” I disagree with that. I say, “Do what
you like. Save what you love for a hobby.” Because when you depend on it,
it’s inherently going to have some push and pull tension.
Patrick:
I
like the stuff. In all reality, I like the management part of the business more
than I like the making part of it. So, that’s why I have five people who are
really good at making things.
Patrick:
I
grew up with strategy games, Risk, Civilization. Now, it’d be like Settlers of
Catan, resource management games, which is all a business is. You have a
certain amount of time, money, employees. How do you get the job done with
those limited resources? It’s a really nerdy way to look at running a business,
but—
Tracy:
No,
it’s a really good way to look at it.
Aaron:
I
think a lot of maker types, in general, struggle with the business side of
things because they like the making side of things so much that they’re like,
“I love doing this. I love building stuff, but the business side of
things, I don’t really get.”
Patrick:
So,
my neighbor in the warehouse that I run, his business is Objects for Objects, a
little shout out. Leonard is great at making, hates the business side, and we
always joke that we’re the exact reciprocal of each other in terms of where our
skills lie.
Patrick:
But,
it’s great to have somebody next door who you can ask the question of,
“What colors are you liking right now?” or “Hey, how do you make
this website more business friendly?” for investment, things like that.
It’s great to surround yourself with people who can help you with your
weaknesses.
Tracy:
Yeah,
I have an Etsy shop, and I really love running the shop from home. When I have
to go out to a craft fair situation to actually sell, it’s my actual worst
nightmare. I just want to be like, when people ask how much it is, something to
be like, “You can just have it. Just take it.” I hate talking money
and prices.
Patrick:
Try
now selling a high-end product at a flea market.
Tracy:
Yeah.
Patrick:
The
looks I get are just priceless.
Tracy:
They’re
clutching their little antique pearls.
Patrick:
Yeah,
and I’m like, “No, honey. That’s wholesale I just offered you.” And
they’re like, “Oh.” And I’m like, “Try to make it
yourself.”
Tracy:
Well,
let’s talk about that. What is a price point on some of your stuff? What would
a concrete table, what’s a price range?
Patrick:
Like
dining tables, we probably aren’t even starting the conversation below $2000.
Side tables, they’re probably going to start around $300, but concrete has
rejects.
Patrick:
So,
right now, we have my two favorite products. They’re called the Manza Pedestal.
It’s just a cylinder. And the Cloud Monolith, which is—
Aaron:
Those
are really cool. It’s kind of—
Patrick:
Oh,
thank you.
Aaron:
Wavy.
Patrick:
I
made that not even knowing what the style was called, which is called a
scalloped edge. We made probably 40 or 50 of those before we figured out how to
do it.
Patrick:
So,
right now, I have 10 left of rejects, which online, they’re $800, $900 bucks a
pop, something around there.
Patrick:
Come
to the flea market, and you can get them for $300. And the flaws are pretty
much only seen by me.
Tracy:
Right.
Patrick:
But
again, I can’t risk shipping it to New York—
Aaron:
And
absorbing that cost, and then getting it shipped back and absorbing cost.
Patrick:
Exactly,
and then shipping it again. So, yeah. How do you price things? It’s how hungry
are you, how desperate are you, I guess.
Patrick:
There
have been months where I’m just like, “Just take it.” I’ve also just
given deals to people because … This is the last weekend was the flea market,
and at the end of the day, I wanted to pack up those two young girls, just
moved to L.A. from the state of Washington, and I’m like, “I’ve been in
their shoes.” They’re probably like 24, and I’m like, “I just want
you to have something good.” And I gave them such a good deal, and it’s
like I’m giving you this deal, so that you buy less at IKEA.
Patrick:
I’m
not making money on this, but I want less bought at IKEA because I want less in
the landfill because that’s where your IKEA side table’s going to be in a year.
Tracy:
Yeah,
so what do you recommend people look for when they’re buying furniture? What
are some things on a craftsmanship level that you recommend? Because I don’t
think most people would think that about IKEA, the fact that it’s going to
basically turn to waste.
Aaron:
If
it has a particle board core, it’s not going to hold up longterm, right?
Patrick:
Pretty
much. If it’s MDF or a particle board as the wood, and it’s just a veneer wood,
but how do you train someone to see what a veneer looks like? That’s tough. The
heavier the better, I guess, would be a good rule of thumb. If you’re picking
it up, and you’re like, “Oh, it’s so light.” It’s because it’s made
from spray painted cardboard pretty much.
Tracy:
Yup.
And that’s why it’s in my kids’ rooms.
Patrick:
Yeah.
Tracy:
There’s
a time and place for IKEA for sure.
Patrick:
Absolutely.
Tracy:
I
think the playroom is one of them.
Patrick:
And
you know what? I think their kitchenware is fantastic.
Tracy:
Oh,
yes. Their jars and their storage containers.
Aaron:
Yeah,
those are materials you can’t really—
Tracy:
Glass
and yeah.
Aaron:
Glass
and silverware and stuff like that, you’re not going to cut that open and find
cardboard.
Patrick:
No,
exactly.
Tracy:
No,
I totally agree. I think IKEA is—
Aaron:
Some
of their designs are fantastic from a design function or perspective is
incredible.
Patrick:
So,
at the flea market, I bring out this reading chair that I designed and had
built. And then, I also have two vintage IKEA chairs. Every month, someone
tries to buy those chairs, and I’m just like—
Tracy:
I
bet that really pisses you off.
Patrick:
You
know what? I’m not going to look down on IKEA for being great, for hiring great
designers. I’m just going to look down on them for being so disposable.
Tracy:
Right?
Patrick:
Because
while even though they do use a lot of recycled materials, one thing I harp on
is that recycling is reduce, reuse, recycle. Those are the three Rs. They’re
reuse it materials, but not reducing materials. Would you rather a side table
that is made from reused goods that lasts one year or a side table that’s going
to last you 20 years. If you do the math, that one using new product, new
materials that lasts longer is more environmentally friendly.
Tracy:
Yeah,
and you have a big stress on sustainability in your shop.
Patrick:
Absolutely.
Tracy:
Can
you talk about that a little bit?
Patrick:
Sure.
I was a kid of the 80s, so it was indoctrinated. I was a kid in the 80s in New
York, raised by parents who were just … they were hippies. My mom treated
Abby Hoffman’s head wounds in a protest. They are die-hard hippies. Now, a
state worker and a nurse, but it’s just ingrained in me to be environmentally
friendly.
Patrick:
So,
whether it’s the wood we use for our live edge pieces come from trees that
naturally fell in L.A., so we literally will stop when we see a tree being cut
down by the city or by whoever the city contracts out and be like, “What
are you doing with that?”
Patrick:
So,
for a while, we had wood from the L.A Zoo because there was a big wind storm or
the Huntington Gardens because of the big wind storm five years ago. In our
concrete, we’re using recycled styrofoam.
Patrick:
So,
concrete, by nature, is cement in an aggregate. Usually, that’s sand or stone.
There’s a company that can coat 99% recycled post-consumer styrofoam, so that
it bonds with cement. It’s not as strong, but you can pick and choose where you
use it.
Patrick:
So,
all my monoliths are hollowed out and made out of recycled styrofoam because if
you have a weaker material that’s 18 inches tall, you’re not going to break
through 18 inches of concrete. If you had a weaker material, and you’re only
three quarters inch thick, then you’re going to run into trouble. So—
Aaron:
And
it keeps the weight down too, right?
Patrick:
Massively.
Aaron:
Which
will help in your shipping costs and some other stuff.
Patrick:
It
helps my back.
Aaron:
It
helps your back, yeah.
Patrick:
Doing
a flea market where you are selling concrete gets a little exhausting.
Tracy:
Oh
my gosh. I can’t even imagine.
Aaron:
I
can imagine at the end of the day, you’d be like, “Yeah, you can take that
if you can put it in the back of your truck because I don’t want to move it for
the 15th time.”
Tracy:
I
feel that way with t-shirts.
Patrick:
My
ex would always joke. She would just say like, “Why don’t you sell silk
scarves?” And I’m like, “I really should.”
Tracy:
That’s
so funny. And these people that go to the flea markets, they’re hardcore. They
set up and breakdown twice a week, three times a week.
Patrick:
I
do once a month, and my body can’t handle anymore.
Tracy:
That’s
enough. Yeah.
Aaron:
It’s
a whole another business, that whole flea market thing. Just the flea market
shopper, I think, is a specific type of client too.
Patrick:
But,
you know what it is? It’s also from a business perspective, virtually free A-B
testing in that I know whether or not I’m doing something right by who’s coming
out and talking to me about it. Or I know how I present something if it’s the
right way by who’s stopping. If it’s all, no offense to my parents, people like
my parents, then I might not have a winner if it keeps on being people in the
25 to 45 year old demographic who are lead creatives at their ad agency. Then
okay, we’ve got something here. And it’s a great way to test an idea out.
Aaron:
Speaking
to that, what is some of your better performing things? Is it the Cloud things
you were talking about?
Patrick:
So,
the pedestals, right now, are probably the top performer. It’s colorful. It’s
easy to relate to because it’s just a pedestal. The Cloud is the best performer
to my highest-end clients.
Patrick:
I
have a few designers that I go to in terms of what do you think? How do you
feel on this one? And everyone’s just like, “That. I love that. You need
to do more of that.” The Cloud is more. The Manza Pedestal is easier for
people to swallow.
Patrick:
Other
things that … My round concrete table’s called the Ross. People love those.
Those are probably the other top performer.
Aaron:
Named
for friends?
Patrick:
Yeah,
this one’s named after my buddy, Shaun Ross, who is a very famous albino model.
The Manza’s named after my shop right hand, who has since moved on, Juan Manza.
And the Cloud is just because it’s kind of the juxtaposition of it being so
heavy looking but light in weight and kind of curvy like a cloud. There’s a lot
going on on that one.
Aaron:
Yeah,
looking down, if you’re looking at it from the top, it looks like a cartoon-y
cloud.
Patrick:
Kind
of cloud-ish.
Tracy:
What
is your own home look like?
Patrick:
It’s
super minimal. I did a concrete … So, I own the building I live in. So, I
ripped up the floors. I did a concrete veneer and then an epoxy coat on top of
it. So, it has a really shiny concrete look without actually being a real
concrete floor.
Patrick:
I
have concrete counters that we made, open cabinetry. I believe in open
cabinetry because you can’t hide things.
Tracy:
Aaron,
it scares Aaron.
Aaron:
That’s
why I can’t do it.
Patrick:
Yeah.
I have a concrete coffee table, a couch that we made. It’s pretty minimal, but
it’s also usually a mess because there’s two dogs in the house and two boys in
the house.
Tracy:
Yeah,
that actually was one of the questions we got on social media, who’s dogs those
were that you use a lot in the photos.
Patrick:
They’re
everybody’s. So, there are puppies in photos. Those are from Angel City
Pitbulls. Angel City Pitbull ACPB is an L.A.-based foster agency for pitbulls,
who I was a foster dad for and still help out here and there for.
Tracy:
Pitbulls
are the best. I have one too.
Patrick:
They
are so sweet.
Aaron:
I
have one too.
Tracy:
Oh,
Aaron has one too.
Aaron:
Yeah,
I rescued mine from a place down in the South Bay, but another pitbull rescue.
Patrick:
There’s
no shortage of pitbulls that need to be rescued in Los Angeles. So, there’s
them. Other ones were the girl who used to run my social media, her dogs got in
there a lot. I think my photographer’s dogs have gotten in there. Always
looking for dogs.
Tracy:
Well,
we happen to know very good dog models if you ever needed them.
Patrick:
Oh,
fantastic.
Aaron:
I
have a very photogenic pitbull.
Patrick:
I’ve
even had—
Tracy:
His
head could fit in—
Aaron:
Her
head.
Tracy:
Her
head. I’m sorry. Her dainty head.
Aaron:
If
her head fits in the frame.
Patrick:
I’ve
even had chickens and turtles in photos, so—
Tracy:
I
love that.
Patrick:
Anything
quirky.
Aaron:
Going
back to, I guess, the business side of things, what is the biggest challenges
that you’ve faced in … This wasn’t what you started out doing, so learning
all the business side of things.
Patrick:
Oh,
so the biggest challenge … One massive challenge, and I hate admitting it
because I’m a diehard liberal, but Los Angeles doesn’t make it easy to run a
business, whether it’s all the paperwork I don’t know that I’m supposed to be
doing or simply the cost of doing business. The rent here is so darn high.
That’s tough.
Patrick:
Being
able to pay yourself is still something I still haven’t really even figured out
because everything I make goes to my employees and gets reinvested. So, it’s
just having a steady business is a tough one, and I think it’s a waiting game,
and I’m at the point now where I have enough irons in the fire that there’s
usually at least one designer who’s hitting me up for something. So, there’s
always something to be done.
Patrick:
Another
business challenge is finding employees. The first four months of this year, I
struggled. It was one person who had another job elsewhere. Another person got
in a car accident. Another person just was MIA. Finding reliable people is so
difficult.
Aaron:
And
you’re trying to hire people of a certain skillset, right?
Patrick:
I’ll
train anyone. So, every person I train, I remind them that last year, one of my
employees was a girl who was deaf who had never used tools. If I can train a
girl who’s deaf how to do this, I can train you. I know some sign language.
That helps, but still.
Patrick:
With
concrete, there’s actually a really big auditory element to it. When we’re
spraying the concrete, it’s supposed to sound a certain way, and if it doesn’t,
then you have something wrong in your mix.
Patrick:
So,
we’ll teach anyone. I think one difficult thing is language barriers, whether
it’s being deaf or not speaking English because you’re Spanish speaking or
whatever it is. Communicating the actual pretty complex ideas that go into
concrete, with limited language abilities, has been one of my bigger challenges.
Tracy:
Why
do you think there’s a lack of younger people interested in trades and
craftsmanship?
Patrick:
Because
working in tech pays a lot better. Everyone thinks they’re entitled to a
six-figure job making video games or what ever it is. It’s just not the case.
Patrick:
We
also aren’t training. I grew up with a shop class. I don’t know if high schools
still have shop classes. I’m going to guess many don’t.
Tracy:
We
had an electrician on the show, and he was talking about the same thing that
the average age of electricians now are what he was saying—
Aaron:
55.
Tracy:
Yeah.
55, and there’s just not up and coming tradespeople anymore.
Patrick:
And
what’s ironic is it’s the trades jobs, which are the hardest for AI to replace.
It’s not complicated jobs. Jobs that take a lot of intellectual processing are
the easiest for machines to replace because no matter how smart you are, that computer
can process a lot quicker than you can.
Patrick:
But,
it’s getting under a sink and be like, “Oh, okay. Do we need to get the J
trap out because there’s a leak.” You’re not going to have a robot anytime
soon that’s crawling under your sink and replacing your pipes.
Patrick:
So,
trades are the safest place to be, and they’re actually really good money.
Aaron:
Especially
now. The more scarce they become, the more in-demand they become, which then
drives up the value of that trade. So then, you can make more and more money on
top of that.
Aaron:
Yeah,
we’ve talked about that a few times and the skills gap and incentivizing people
to get their hands dirty or at least have some … My whole brand is based on
people being able to tackle a lot of stuff around the house because for that
very reason. It’s hard to find somebody even now. You might call and say,
“I need a plumber.” Well, that plumber may not call you back for
three or four weeks because they’re just busy.
Patrick:
There’s
a lot of people who you can also turn to that they don’t work in your field,
but their knowledge is super applicable. So, right now, to do my new line, the
Clouds and the Manza pedestals, the concrete monoliths, it’s a completely
different process than I used to work with.
Patrick:
Before,
they used to be just Melamine or wood forms or rubber forms, but now, it’s a
rubber and fiberglass matrix mold, which is a lot of work, which I have done
it, but if you don’t have to work with fiberglass for a living, don’t work with
fiberglass for a living. It sucks.
Patrick:
So,
the guy I go to, his day job is making monsters. In L.A., we have so many
talented people because of the Hollywood industry, and he makes monsters for
movies. You walk in his shop, and there’s a werewolf, Ninja Turtles, zombies,
and he’s just making props all day, and at night, he’ll make molds for me. So,
by day, right now, he is fixing the original Jaws that I think hangs at the
Screen Actor Guild, off their ceiling, and he’s been reworking its skin to look
more like it was when it was originally made. And at night, he makes fiberglass
molds for me.
Patrick:
So,
being able to think about who can help you, who isn’t necessarily … who
doesn’t think they could help you. Every time he does a new mold, he’s just
like, “This is so fun. I never thought I’d make furniture.” And I’m
like, “Me and you both.”
Tracy:
That
is so cool.
Aaron:
And
you spray a lot of your concrete, right? As opposed to pouring it.
Patrick:
So,
it’s a face coat. It’s about a 16th to an 8th of an inch that’s being sprayed
out of a plaster-hopper gun, and then, depending on what the application is,
we’re packing it, or there’s actually a $13,000 gun that sprays a thicker
concrete layer that you can do but you don’t need. And then, we’re just
building it up.
Patrick:
My
newest employee, Nassily, her mother was a baker. She’s like, “This is so
much like baking.” It’s constant baking analogy, and she’s right. It
really is.
Aaron:
Yeah,
well, when you look at it, it’s an ingredient thing. It’s either a chemical
process or a heat process or something that’s added to the ingredients.
Patrick:
When
I’m mixing colors, I mix it with a Kitchen Aid mixer.
Tracy:
Oh,
that’s interesting.
Patrick:
When
we are doing patching, we’re using scrapers that you would do frosting with
just because it’s a softer material, a softer scraper that won’t scratch the
concrete and still is filling in holes.
Aaron:
So,
we talked about a little bit of the challenges from the business side of
things. Obviously, you’re in business for yourself. What is the most rewarding
part of having your own business?
Patrick:
It
sounds so silly, but having a happy customer is so rewarding. Unfortunately,
having an unhappy customer is really tough for me to swallow, and there’s been
a couple. There’s been a couple. But, making somebody happy is really worth it
for me.
Tracy:
Yeah,
and every time you get one of those reviews on Etsy, you just kind of wiggle in
your seat a little bit.
Patrick:
Yep.
Tracy:
That’s
so cool. Where do you see your business going, or how do you see your life
expanding?
Patrick:
I
think the next big phase is hiring proper sales rep teams, and I have two in
the works. I have a sales rep in France, but that’s limited because shipping.
Once we have the sales reps up and going, there’s a guy in the Santa Barbara
area who does something similar to what I do, and he and I were talking. He’s
like, “Once you get a sales rep, be ready.” We went from 3 to 25
people over night practically.
Patrick:
So,
it’s kind of, right now, making sure that we’re ready to take that jump because
the worse thing that you can do is leave a bad impression and burn a bridge.
Tracy:
Right,
because you’re not prepared and you’re—
Aaron:
Because
you’re scaling too quickly, and then you can’t execute on demand and all that.
Patrick:
Absolutely.
Whether it’s just having enough people, having enough space, having enough
inventory of the products I need, there’s a lot that goes into scaling up, and
we’re getting there slowly.
Tracy:
So,
for someone that’s really into making furniture, maybe they have a normal job,
and they do it on the side but would love to actually start a business and take
that plunge, what advice could you give to them?
Patrick:
I
would say focus on a product that is safe. Get nearly passive income, and that
like … Whether for me, it was live edge side tables. Those are easy. They are
quick. There’s always going to be somebody looking for them that you can just
churn those out in the background, or have somebody else. Because as soon as
you have a product that is reliable, you can somebody else doing that while
you’re developing the next thing. And that person is paying for themselves and
for you to help develop the next thing.
Patrick:
So,
right now, we have a restaurant job that is probably safe for the next 18
months of non-stop work doing pretty much the same one or two or three things
over and over and over. So, we were able to bring on two people.
Tracy:
Are
you doing tables for the restaurant?
Patrick:
We’re
doing tables, but also and more so, is concrete wall panels.
Tracy:
Oh,
interesting.
Patrick:
Yeah,
it’s going to be really beautiful.
Tracy:
Okay,
so we got some social media questions for you. These are always our favorite.
Patrick:
Yup.
Tracy:
Okay,
what is your studio and workspace like? Do you have music in the background? What’s
your go-to soundtrack or vibe?
Patrick:
Oh
my god. My go-to soundtrack is not my soundtrack. It matters who’s working. If
Frankie J works, Frankie is this El Salvadorean work horse. It’s a mix of
Mariachi and Michael Bolton.
Tracy:
Amazing.
Aaron:
Classic.
Patrick:
Yeah.
Tracy:
You’ve
got to even it out. You’ve got to—
Patrick:
And
he belts it out while he works. If it’s Jen and Nassily, it’s much more
contemporary. It’s usually just a radio station. And we found out that whatever
radio station the Wave is only plays about 100 to 200 different songs because
every single day, we’re like, “Oh, it’s Whitney time.” It’s shocking
how much these songs come on.
Aaron:
That’s
not even … I feel like that’s … Isn’t it Top 40 every station I’m on is …
I get in the car. I’ll go somewhere. I’ll get back in the car after I’m at that
place. The same song is playing.
Tracy:
You’ve
looped back around. [crosstalk 00:40:17]
Patrick:
I
don’t get a choice. If I have a choice, I only have headphones on, and I’m
listening to New York Times, the Daily, or the Washington Post most.
Aaron:
I
want to know a little bit more about this classified thing obviously that you
can’t tell me about, more about the how did you get involved in that field.
Patrick:
So,
I was a materials engineer at Ohio State, and they were doing interviews, they
being Los Alamos National Laboratory were doing interviews on campus. I went
purely as an interview practice, so I was like, “No way am I getting this
job. This goes to a kid at MIT, Stamford, Berkeley, one of the powerhouses.”
We’re a powerhouse, but we’re not the powerhouse.
Patrick:
Through
persistence, I got the job. I just emailed or called the hiring manager every
month, like, “Hey, I just wanted to see. I heard that the government’s
budget was signed last week, and I wanted to know if that gave you any clarity
on your intern situation this month.” I think purely out of persistence, I
got a job working in the nuclear materials division, and it was one of the
coolest summers because not many people get to have been on the inside to carry
radioactive elements. It was a fun, sometimes tedious, summer.
Tracy:
How
has that experience contributed to what you do now?
Patrick:
I
have a working relationship with the editor at Dwell Magazine because the first
time I went to Dwell On Design, which is the trade show that they have in L.A.,
I went with a press pass for a Fast Company, who I was writing for.
Patrick:
I
was there looking for stories, but I made sure I hunted her down, and I gave
her my business card. I said, “Hey, I’m a journalist. I’m here with Fast
Company, but I’m going to be probably the only nuclear materials engineer
turned furniture designer you meet today. Here’s my card. Let’s follow up
really to about later.”
Patrick:
Two
years later, she sees me. “Oh, Patrick. You’re the only nuclear materials
engineer turned furniture designer that I met that day, aren’t you?” And
it’s like, “I sure am.” So, it’s a catchy thing to use in a pitch, I
guess.
Patrick:
The
engineering, on the other hand, being able to think about the concrete
specifically from a microscopic level really helps because concrete’s a
ceramic. Ceramics are one of the major things you learn about in materials
engineering.
Tracy:
You’re
so multi-talented because a lot of people are like, “I’m very right
brained” or “I’m very left brained.” But, I see you using both
sides in perfect harmony.
Patrick:
Well,
thank you.
Tracy:
And
it’s really impressive.
Patrick:
Thank
you.
Aaron:
My
wife and I just got turned on to the Chernobyl show on HBO recently.
Patrick:
Oh,
I want to watch it.
Aaron:
And
I’ve been watching it, and I spent two hours the other night convincing myself
that I was a DIY nuclear physicist because I’ve read all of Wikipedia about
nuclear fission. So, I’m like, “Oh, I’m all about it. Let’s talk about
nuclear energy and all sorts of stuff”, but it’s a great show.
Patrick:
There’s
a good fission story in the Times about a week ago about teams of researchers
who have not given up on fission as the next unstoppable energy source, and
they’re going for it. And slowly but surely, they think they’re getting closer,
which would be a game changer for the world.
Tracy:
What
is that for someone like me that has no idea what you’re talking about?
Patrick:
Being
able to harvest—
Aaron:
Fission
or fusion? Which one?
Tracy:
Whatever
you just said.
Patrick:
What
these researchers are doing are they’re trying to harvest the energy of
splitting the atom for non-atomic uses. In the 80s, we had a … I think it was
the 80s … a brief moment. It was pretty much bad science or a research paper
that lied, which said that we have made a fusion or fission reactor. I always
use the words wrong these days. And it’s going to be commercially available,
and the world stopped. “Oh my god. Our energy needs are solved
forever.” And it turned out it didn’t. It wasn’t real, and people have
been chasing it ever since. The New York Times had the piece, I think.
Aaron:
I’ll
have to check it out. Yeah, so fission is how a nuclear reactor works, which is
you’re splitting basically uranium atoms, and then it turns into a chain
reaction that splits more and more and more and more.
Patrick:
These
guys are doing cold fusion—
Aaron:
And
fusion is the other way, like bringing atoms together kind of thing, but that
doesn’t exist. That’s a theoretical—
Patrick:
That’s
what they’re trying to do.
Aaron:
Fission
actually exists. That’s how Chernobyl happened.
Patrick:
And
Three Mile Island and—
Aaron:
The
Japanese one.
Tracy:
Okay,
thank you. I learn something new every day.
Aaron:
See?
Look at that. Furniture turned nuclear engineering conversation.
Tracy:
Oh,
man.
Aaron:
Things
I didn’t think I was going to do today about nuclear fission.
Aaron:
Well,
thank you so much for being here.
Patrick:
Well,
thank you.
Aaron:
I
hope you enjoyed it.
Tracy:
It
was such a pleasure.
Patrick:
And
I hope the audience doesn’t hate me for messing up my fusion fission words too
much because—
Tracy:
No,
and I will be visiting you at the flea market.
Aaron:
I’m
pretty sure you’re the most talented of all our audience when it comes to
nuclear energy.
Aaron:
We
want to thank Filter Buy for making this show and this episode possible, so
make sure you guys check out filterbuy.com and sign up for your HVAC filters
and also, sign up for our email list. We’re posting new content on the website
all the time, so you never want to miss you. And follow us on social media as
well @howtohome_guide, and where can people find Patrick Cain info?
Patrick:
So,
on Instagram and Facebook, it’s patrickcaindesigns. Cain is C-A-I-N designs
with an S, or just go straight to my website, patrickcaindesigns.com, or you
could also come to the Rose Bowl flea market if you’re local in L.A.
Tracy:
Yeah,
I’m going to come look for you next time. It’s one of my favorite places to go.
Aaron:
Yeah,
I’ll pop in and say hi.
Aaron:
Well,
thank you guys so much for watching or listening. Be sure to rate us on your
podcast app of choice. We would appreciate it.
Aaron:
The
How to Home podcast is brought to you by filterbuy.com, your one stop, direct
to consumer replacement air filter brand, and is produced in collaboration by
Mass Media Group, LLC and Intelligent Arts and Artists. The show was executive
produced by George Louise and Aaron Massey.

Show Notes

This week Aaron and Tracy chat with Patrick Cain of Patrick Cain Designs about his interesting path to becoming a furniture designer, and the business side of being a maker.

LET’S CHAT!

You can always call and leave your questions and comments on our voicemail!

978-709-1040

NOTABLE MOMENTS :

  • Patrick attributes his success to having a curiosity and learning.
  • He started mid-century modern and moved into minimalist design.
  • He’s currently working on a brutalist vibe with a little touch of Memphis. 
  • Patrick’s company employs people from every continent. 
  • The shop’s process is super collaborative. Patrick has everyone in the shop give input. 
  • In addition to his main site, Patrick sells his second hand concrete pieces on Etsy, and also at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. 
  • “Do what you like, save what you love as a hobby”. 
  • Patrick looks at selling at the flea market as free A/B testing. He can tell if he’s doing the right thing by who approaches him to hear more.
  • “I believe in open cabinetry because you can’t hide things!”
  • The dogs in Patrick’s photos are from Angel City Pitbulls.
  • If you’re thinking of starting a business, focus on a product that’s safe and then expand.

THINGS TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING FURNITURE:

  • If it’s MDF or particle board it’s not going to hold up.
  • The heavier the better.
  • Look for furniture that is environmentally friendly. Things that are made from new materials are better if they’re going to last 10 years.

ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS:

  • Patrick uses recycled styrofoam in his concrete pieces.
  • Their team looks for fallen trees and materials that can be reclaimed. 

SOME CHALLENGES OF RUNNING A BUSINESS/MOST REWARDING:

  • One of the biggest challenges is, Los Angeles doesn’t make it easy to run a business.
  • Being able to pay yourself is tough- it goes to employees and getting reinvested.
  • Having steady work.
  • Finding employees! Finding reliable people is so difficult.
  • Having a happy customer is really rewarding. 

FIND PATRICK:

Website | patrickcaindesigns.com

The Gram | @patrickcaindesigns

Facebook | facebook.com/PatrickCainDesigns

Pinterest | pinterest.com/PCD_Furniture

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