HUMANS WE HEART: RICHARD SMITH, OWNER OF TWENTY FORTY-FOUR WOODWORKS
Richard Smith is one handy guy. As fate would have it, an expensive furniture shopping trip with his girlfriend inspired him to learn how to woodwork, build his own furniture and turn it into a successful business. Get to know his story, plus the advice he has for fellow creatives balancing work while pursuing a side hustle, in our chat below.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did XX44 Woodworks get started? Have you always been into woodworking?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn by my mom and three brothers. I’ve spent nearly the last two decades working in luxury retail in New York City, which is where my admiration for the finer things in life comes from. Now I balance my full-time job with a growing, custom woodworking business.
The idea of XX44 started out of necessity then turned into my passion, which then turned into my business. It was about five years ago—I was moving into a new apartment with my girlfriend, and she would not stop showing me furniture that was upwards of $3,000. As two people in the fashion industry, we have expensive taste, but I was confident that I could create something on my own that would be just as good, if not better. I had zero experience or interest in woodworking, but was determined to make our space look great. So, I spent all my down time watching YouTube videos and researching DIY woodworking. In less than a month, I made our dining and coffee tables from Douglas fir and plumbing pipe. I remade those projects a few times to adjust the style, material and finish to match the progression I had made as a woodworker throughout the years.
Now, I have a steadily growing client base, allowing me to have about two commissioned projects a month and time to experiment with the things I love.
Wow, what an awesome and rewarding journey. And we couldn’t help but notice your furry (and insanely adorable) co-workers on Instagram—would you mind introducing us?
For sure! Meet Bobs and Franks, formally Bobbi and Frankie. Two female Devon Rex cats that are a little more monkey than typical cat. Bobs is your ever-loving extrovert who wants to be cuddled by all, while Franks is the curiously cautious introvert who needs selective attention.
Too cute! How would you describe your personal style? What’s your go-to look?
It falls somewhere between American workwear and streetwear—nothing hypebeast, but you’ll definitely get the hint that I’m from Brooklyn. The go-to look will always involve a shacket.
There’s nothing like a good shacket. Let’s switch gears—what does a typical day look like for you?
I usually wake up early and get straight to trying out some technique or thing I thought of the night before. Then, I get ready for work while watching a woodworking video or listening to a podcast. I’m a retail manager for a luxury clothing brand in TriBeCa, so I spend a good part of the day working with clients, managing my team and running the store. The second I’m back home, I bury myself in the workshop until dinner, then get back to it. With my workshop in the basement, I have the luxury of working as much or as little as I want on any given day and can literally just run down when I have an idea.
Where do you pull inspiration from?
Here’s the thing—I’m not a furniture designer, I’m a woodworker. While it’s sometimes hard to separate the two, my inspiration is rarely focused around a particular style or time period like people would expect, but I am very much inspired by the medium that I work with. Outside of client work, the lumber I buy is solely based off how cool I think it might look. At that point, I have no design plans in mind.
In nature, every tree encounters a unique set of struggles that ultimately creates its character—that’s what makes me gravitate toward a certain piece of wood over another. Once I have it in my hands, I ideate ways to craft furniture that will complement the natural characteristics and seasonal movement of that wood.
What must-have essentials do you need when creating?
Beyond the obvious tools in my workshop and extra sharp chisels, I feed off YouTube content from fellow creators. I owe my entire craft to things I’ve learned from watching other woodworkers, from build tutorials to equipment recommendations and even missteps. Seeing other people’s processes has allowed me to become an efficient problem solver. I’m not much of a planner, so I constantly find myself making design and functional decisions on the go. I wouldn’t have the confidence that I do if it weren’t for everyone else sharing their trade… oh, and obviously my shop cats!
Nice! Finally, what advice would you offer fellow creatives who are working 9-5 and trying to start their own business?
Don’t listen to the noise. People will continue to ask you when you’re going to quit your job and what the next thing is. To be honest, there is no right answer. Take it at your own pace and grow as it seems fit.
Thank you so much, Richard! Check out some of his work here.