We had the good fortune of connecting with Austin McAdams and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Austin, how do you think about risk?
First of all, pursuing a creative career in building furniture is a risk. There is a great deal of time, energy and money to equip yourself with the knowledge and tools to be a professional woodworker and furniture designer. Risk has been a frequent element in my career and I have grown to be comfortable with it. The most recurring risk in my career has been from taking on projects that were over my head. I have frequently taken on projects that I knew were out of my comfort zone as far as the experience needed, machinery, and or scale. Risking failure on a big project could ultimately sully my name as a maker and degrade my business. I also knew if I did not take these projects head on I would not grow and become stronger as a maker. I have always enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to build something that I have never done before. No matter how long it took or money I lost I worked hard to make sure I completed each project at the best quality. After many years I can look back and see how much I have grown as a maker and designer. These risks have given me the confidence to take on most any job. At the same time you have to be strong enough to know your weaknesses and know when to walk away from a project you cannot complete at the expected level of quality you can currently perform. Calculate your risk.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I grew up in Richmond VA. Growing up my family and I saw promise in a career in architecture based on my drawing and creative skills. Halfway through high school I began to lose interest in academics and I could not focus on the road ahead. I spent more time in the principles office than in class. I was eventually moved to an alternative school where half my days I leaned carpentry. Suddenly I found focus and showed promise in a field. It wasn’t architecture but at least I could have a career building houses. Once I graduated I jumped around many different jobs but still felt lost. At 21 I began bartending. It was a great way to make quick money and it was fun as far as jobs go. Little did I know it would be a short career bartender for 14 years. Four years into bartending I knew I could not do it forever so I would have to further my reach in another field. I applied for the art school at Virginia Commonwealth University in my hometown. After a year I was accepted into the Sculpture program. This was certainly not the most secure career choice but there was no denying my aptitude for building. Two years into this program I took a furniture class to further my woodworking skills for my sculptures. Once I built my first piece of furniture everything clicked. Looking back it was an ugly and poorly built table but I was enamored with the process. Furniture was a language I could understand. I soon left sculpture behind and I have done it ever since. After receiving my BFA I was accepted into the small but well respected Masters furniture program at San Diego State University. I moved out west and left my family 3000 miles away. I have decided to stay in San Diego to build my career. It has been a tough road and it has been hard without family near by. I have struggled financially working in this field and I have been lucky to have bartending to lean on when times got tough. I have had to keep faith over the years in order to keep pushing though all of the financial hardships and the psychological stress that comes from frequently not knowing how you will pay rent. What I lacked in financial support I made up with tremendous moral support from friends and family over the years. After almost a decade of pursuing a career in custom furniture I have finally reached a place where I have consistent work and my rent is always on time. I was a kid with no direction and no focus and I learned through my craft and work the reward of patience and determination. Two traits I lacked growing up. I now have a multi-faceted fabrication shop. We build and design custom high end furniture for homes and commercial building, custom millwork, custom cabinets, even exhibits for museums. I have begun working on small scale production furniture and I hope to being launching some pieces to sell during this year. In the past couple years my girlfriend and I have partnered up to design parts of restaurants and we are working to complete our first full design/build restaurant this year. We are excited to work together to design and build spaces.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
As a bartender at a local resort I always told guest to go to Buona Forchetta in South Park for pizza/Italian food and Cantina Mayahuel in Normal Heights for Tequila and Mexican food. Both keep a feeling of authenticity to their cuisine and atmosphere. While at either you can walk directly across the street to a Consortium Holdings bar for great cocktails and one of a kind atmosphere. Kindred across from Buona Forchetta and Polite Provisions across from Cantina Mayahuel. I will just list a few of my other favorites: -Nomad’s North Park for fresh Everything bagels -Bahn Thai in University Heights for Bangkok Beef -Izakaya Masa in Mission Hills for Japanese -Convoy Street for all things Asian -Mish Mash in Barrio Logan for burger lunch special and tortilla soup -Las Cuatro Milpas in Barrio Logan for the most authentic home cooked Mexican north of the border. As far as places to go I like being outdoors and try to get up to the mountains ad desert when time permits. Palomar has beautiful trails and trees. Anza Borrego desert is perfect place to set up camp and see stars more clearly than you normally ever see. We usually stop at Julian on the way out to the desert. It is very busy on the weekends but it is still a nice stop along the way for coffee and a bite at the Miner’s Diner. Pappy and Harriet’s is a great venue for barbecue and live music in Pioneerstown. And if you make it that far you should stop and see the Joshua Trees. I am more of a mountain person than a beach person but when I have friends and family visit I show them the cliff’s at Torrey Pine’s over Blacks Beach to watch hang gliders, Sunset Cliffs, La Jolla Cove and the Seal’s beach near by. I am missing a lot points of interest because there is so much to do in this town.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
This could turn into a long list but of course I have to Shoutout my mother, Charlotte McAdams. She is a painter and the only other artist in the family. She saw my interest in drawing and building at a young age and has encouraged me all my life to pursue this passion of mine.
Ryoma restaurant shot by Maha Bazzari from Studio MAHA