Gowanus Furniture Co.

We're back making cutting boards, with more new products and services coming down the pike shortly. I'll leave this up, but we're back in the shop and looking forward to getting some cutting boards out in the coming weeks.

Pete Raho - 6 Apr '16 

"Kentile" Monogrammed Cutting Boards

I’ve decided to park Gowanus Furniture Co. for a while. Growing this business for the last five years has been exhilarating, and I feel like I’ve learned more through it than business school and undergrad combined, but at this stage the work has become routine, and getting the business to the next level requires more resources and a different set of skills. More importantly, it hit me that at this stage, the passion is gone and I’m getting further away from the goals I had when I started. I still believe in Gowanus Furniture Co. and it will live on - albeit in a different form - but I need to put my energy towards something new, and find something that’s a similar blend of the analytical and the creative.

When I started this back in 2011 after nearly 8 years at Christie’s and business school, the plan was to “make a living making stuff.” Woodworking was a hobby, and I thought with some adjustments it could pay the bills and I could make modest living while I figured out the Next Big Thing. Of course (as is often the perception of those not actually making stuff for a living - like me at the time), I thought I’d have tons of free time and be drinking beers by 2:00pm every day.

The more I got into it, the more I realized the tremendous effort it would take, but also what it could be. I saw the whole thing as this amazing blend of design, woodworking, and systems, and it’s telling that I had the most fun with the parts of the business not related to production but to the processes behind it. The plan became to grow it large enough to have my own shop and a handful of employees with solid, well paying jobs handling production, and then I could spend my days playing with new designs and making prototypes, selling the stuff, staging photo shoots and making videos, and above all finding ways to make everything more efficient.

The first two years were unlike anything I’d ever experienced. When we were selling at the Brooklyn Flea (and eventually both Smorgasburgs too - four locations each weekend! - 2012-13), there was just no time. For anything. Ever. And the stress… It was nuts. Physically, the manual labor was demanding too - your hands ached, and wood is heavy. I was working seven days a week, but the effort paid off, and the exposure we got from the Flea was worth it and really helped me get the name out there.

During the week, we’d be in our shared space at 6:30am making stuff before it got crowded (and working through the night during the holidays), then the rest of the day spent trying to find time to photograph, ship, develop new products, design packaging, and all the work you need to do at a desk too. Email newsletters hardly ever went out. I was also teaching my cutting board making class two Fridays nights each month then selling at the Flea the next day and Sunday. While I had some help with production, selling at markets, and shipping, the rest was just me. I was doing work I should have delegated, but that can get expensive if everyone’s part time, and the hope was always that in just a couple months it would finally take off (and - the goal was, and still is, much more than cutting boards - click here to read my summary of the Big Plan - I still think it's pretty good).

I did a lot to optimize the production of the boards. I made a lot of spreadsheets to streamline shipping and production, and they saved hours each week. I like the way these four different products are all made from the same length of material and can be glued up in the same clamps - they’re just cut to different lengths, sort of a “Taco Bell” approach. Or our most popular product, the “Kentile” Monogrammed cutting board - it’s essentially the same amount of labor whether it has a specific Morse code monogram or is just made to look pretty.  Either way, we’re still gluing the same pieces of wood together - but we can charge more for the monogram. I loved finding ways to add value and drive that wedge between price and cost.

9' x 4' x 3" thick and about 400lbs.Once we stopped doing the Flea in 2014, we were well-known enough that orders kept coming in, and I started doing larger tabletops and countertops. The thing was that I could never get the sales to be where I knew they could be, and the dream of getting my own shop was growing more elusive. We were the overloaded plane bouncing down the runway, trying to take off. As far as the bigger projects, impressive as the large tabletops were, after the first, they weren’t that much fun - I didn’t want to spend my days making tabletops. Once I figured the process out, I was kind of all set, and growing a profitable tabletop business requires even more space and was further from what I imagined. The business was pretty stable, though - at last. There wasn’t much money left over, but the bills were finally paid. It was kind of working.

Constrained by our space and sales and not sure how to make that leap to the next level, I was spending most of my time making larger pieces, and, looking forward, I realized that this was the new normal. I felt stuck and the work wasn’t fun anymore. I planned to have one final sale in June 2015, then wrap it up. As I was working on those orders, we had a stroke of luck when the Wall Street Journal featured our “American” board in their guide to outdoor entertaining on June 20th. We’ve had mentions before, with maybe one or two orders as a result, so I played along and expected the same. But - wow - was I wrong - orders flew in, and that Saturday was the single best day of sales ever - and then more for the next two days until it tapered off. It was unreal.

All the orders went out, and making the same product in such large batches was much more efficient than anything ever before, and more fun and satisfying too. And profitable! The new scale of logistical problems were interesting, too - and that was something I’d missed. This is what urban manufacturing could be, but it was also all the more reason to stop. It’s hard to sustain yourself going from one stroke of luck to hopefully another - hope is not a strategy. You need to build the system to to make it happen, and that takes time. (The experience did, however, get me thinking more broadly about how strong partnerships with large corporations and how leveraging their reach could help small manufacturers - and I’m excited to work on that.)

TEDxGowanusI’m extremely proud of what I’ve accomplished. We’ve sold thousands of cutting boards around the world, there was the TEDxGowanus talk, the Mount Gay Rum campaign, and lots of press too. All from someone who pretty much figured out the woodworking stuff as he went along and just tried to add more value to the basic cutting board through better design. Also, for all the boards we made, there were never more than three of us making them, and usually only one or two. The production processes were well designed. I'm proud of the branding too - folks love the aluminum tags. There were plenty of missteps, but overall, as frustrating as some parts were, it was great.

I’m not sure what’s next, but I know it needs to be something in the spirit of what I had with Gowanus Furniture Co. and uses what I’ve learned. Something small, with an all-hands-on-deck sort of feel, and something that’s all about new ideas and solving problems (but ideally with less sawdust). In the meantime, I’m thrilled that my “Excel for Creatives” class is finally happening, and I can finally work on all the personal woodworking projects that have been on hold. I’m also looking forward to unveiling the “DIY Stereo Tube Amplifier” class in the spring. To all my customers, thank you for all the support over the years, I do hope to get Gowanus Furniture Co. cutting boards out to a wider audience in the future.


Want to know more? Connect with me on LinkedIn, or download my resume.

Gowanus Audio

Aug 04 2014 | 0 comments

Last weekend's project - made my crossover go from homely to handsome with a sweet walnut enclosure. Pretty nerdtastic, but my receiver is old and doesn't have a subwoofer-out, so I run the signal though the crossover first, and that sends the lows to the subwoofer and everything else back to the receiver to go to the main speakers. The walnut's not resting on the surface - there's about 1mm of space - small rubber feet are underneath. See what I did there? It's not too deep, so made the walnut rails and a plywood top to support the receiver in the back.



We're having a special sale through Sunday, August 3rd - $148 for your own custom planter. It's sort of market research. A beta test, if you will. After that, prices a bit higher, and options a bit fewer.

Perfect for herbs, or living curtains. Check them out here.

Barnett Newman has been a favorite of mine for years, and I remember back in undergrad first seeing his Stations of the Cross on slides in a dim classroom.

I decided I wanted to recreate this series as a series of cutting boards. At the risk of sounding a bit flip, I thought it'd look really cool as I liked the imagery, but also I wanted to delve a bit more into the meaning of the piece.

The inspiration of the piece was Jesus' outcry from the Cross - "lema sabachthani" -  "why have you forsaken me?" The whole piece questions the nature of suffering and it's existence.

I think what makes Newman interesting is that it is so abstract, yet in the process of recreating these pieces, I see his logic behind them. They're not "just stripes" - the distances and widths between elements are consistent across the series (and he created these works over a span of eight years - from 1958 to 1966). There's a logic to be discovered.

They're also intended to ask a question and foster a conversation. The scale at which they're painted (about 6' tall) doesn't really lend itself to that. I saw the show at the National Gallery in 2013 and was thrilled, but a hushed room and security telling you to not take pictures or get too close makes it lose something.

I liked the contrast of a serious subject and the thought that these could be used while entertaining and would be talked about. In the same spirit, another favorite artist of mine, Clyfford Still, hated the idea of museums. Bad for the art. Get rid of the sanctity. Sort of. And live with the work.

I donated a set to the spring ArtBridge auction, and glad to think that they're now in someone's home. 


Each board measures about 5" x 7", all 14 stations were included and numbered on the back.

Here's a peek at the next thing we're working on - window planters for herbs in the kitchen or living curtains. Simple plywood container with a gorgeous walnut faceplate. Solving the world's small-apartment problems, one at a time...

Follow us on Instagram - @gowanusfurniture

We totally agree - our collaboration with The Shop - The American - is a great gift for the host. Thanks for the shout-out, Tasting Table! Read more news here...


Perfect for an afternoon in the park...We'll have a few new combos coming up - great for gifts, or just to get a sweet deal for yourself.

Don't go to the park on a sunny day without this one.

This is our Covert Carousing Combo. A wine tote, cheese board, and grilled cheese board. Read more about it here.

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