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Interview: Andrew DePalma Concerning the Origin and Future of Open Door Furniture

by Andrew DePalma September 16, 2022

Interview: Andrew DePalma Concerning the Origin and Future of Open Door Furniture

(This interview was edited for content and clarity) 

Kyle: I’m sitting with Andrew from Open Door Furniture. Andrew has been the owner operator of Open Door Furniture for the last 7 years. He is a California native and is known in the state of California and abroad for making high quality furniture that is made to heirloom quality. With that in mind, thank you for allowing me the time to sit down and talk with you about the history of Open Door Furniture.

Andrew: Yeah, thanks for the opportunity to share.

Kyle: The first question I want to ask you is what was your life like before you started Open Door Furniture?

Andrew: Probably quite a bit easier than it is now.

Kyle: In what ways is it more easy? Maybe you can tell us what you were doing before you started Open Door Furniture.

Andrew: I worked for an insurance company for just about a decade prior to doing this. Or I guess I technically worked for two companies, but I worked in the insurance industry for a little under a decade before doing this. From the outside I had a really nice job and a comfortable income, and everything was pretty predictable. What I did every day was predictable, the money I made was predictable. So, in general there is a lot about that that felt less stressful. Unfortunately, I got really bored and decided to take a real left turn as my wife and I talked about having kids or trying to start having kids. Basically, I thought that if I was going to do anything crazy or different with my life, I wasn’t going to do it after we had kids, so I needed to take a big leap to do something before that. I think the other part of that…. well, I guess I’ll stop there.

Kyle: No, that’s good! So, to sum it up so far from what I’m hearing, before you had a custom furniture company you were successful working in insurance. You were looking for a change or you were looking to do something exciting before you had kids. Is that true?

Andrew: Yeah, and I guess to complete that thought, I got out of school and took a job in insurance to pay of my student loans and then it just kind of turned into a career. I never planned to have a career in insurance, and I was like, ‘well I’ve been doing this for a decade, its sounding like a career’. It was not what I planned to do but I was getting so comfortable. Well, I’d say financially comfortable, because I wasn’t comfortable overall. I was really frustrated about several things and thought that if I go much deeper here, I’m never going to get out and this is not what I ever planned to do.

Kyle: So out of all the career changes you could have made, why did you choose custom furniture?

Andrew: I think there’s really a lot of reasons that answer that question, but a couple would be I have always liked working with my hands. I’ve always liked working hard. Going home at the end of the day tired has always been really appealing to me. I just always liked hard work. I was interested in doing something where I could exert physical energy in a day. I also really loved seeing something happen during the day. It’s ironic because a lot of things I do day to day are similar now, like meetings and emails, but usually there is something tangible that I can point back to in a day and be like ‘I did this’. Even in my role now as I do a lot of design work and stuff like that, I can turn around and say this is what I did in the day and that is really appealing.

Another big reason I got into woodworking was that I bought a house and I just started playing around with home projects and I loved it. I originally thought about being a contractor, but I was more drawn to the idea of furniture because I could more successfully pivot to my own business building custom furniture. I didn’t know how to build or renovate a home other than my own and I didn’t feel like that was a good enough portfolio.

Kyle: Thoughtful point 

Andrew: Yeah so, I thought furniture was the next best thing. I thought ‘how hard can that be?’ I started building furniture and cabinet doors in my spare time and I loved it. You know, probably the last year of my insurance days I’d get home from work, and I could easily work to 2 or 3 in the morning and feel totally energized at the end. I would have to force myself to go to bed. It was a natural pivot when I left my job to continue thinking about doing something like that.

Kyle: Now that you have owned your own furniture company for seven years what does your day to day look like as the owner operator of Open Door Furniture

Andrew: Well, it’s changing and that is an interesting part about running a small business. I think you can run a small business a few different ways. You can do the same thing all the time, and that may make you really successful, or you can recognize when it is time to change or pivot. I’d say in the past, my day would have looked like all building. Now, especially as the years have gone by and we’ve gotten busier, I’ve found my time needing to be split between running the business, managing sales, and design. I still oversee building and then because I love building, I try to do it as much as I possibly can. So, it’s kind of a mixed bag, but as we're looking to do more and more cabinetry I’m guessing there’s going to be more design work in my future and hopefully still some fun furniture pieces that we really want to build.

Kyle: I’m curious to know as we're talking about transitions, what was your original vision for the company and how has it changed over time?

Andrew: My original vision failed miserably. I thought that I would be able to tell designers and customers what a good piece of furniture was. I was going to build lines of furniture and they were going to buy those from me at specific sizes so that I could scale it and build templates and wouldn’t be building something totally different all the time. That did not work at all. I’ve heard a lot of guys who tried to do the same thing, but then you kind of put yourself in this strange category of competing with huge furniture retailers and you’ll never be able to beat them on price. Really what most people are coming to a custom furniture builder for is something that is totally unique or at the very least unique in size, often it is both. So yeah, what I wanted to do failed miserably and it took me a while to admit that and to pivot and say ok were going to build anything anyone wants us to build within reason. 

Kyle: At what point of your career did you see that pivot happing and when did you accept it and move into that new category?

Andrew: When I was running out of money [laughter]

Kyle: Did that take a long time? [laughter]

It didn’t take that long [laughter]. No but long enough, I was pretty stubborn, well, maybe not stubborn, a better word would be thoughtful. I tried to be thoughtful in the way I started. I had a good chunk of savings and really just tried to take my time and really give that effort a good chance. I think it was around the time where I built my second line of furniture which I think I called the ‘bare collection’ (because you know there was not a lot to it), it was simplistic, and no one cared about anything that I did. People would be like oh that’s nice, but they wouldn’t buy it. So, I realized that I just need to start doing what people are asking me to do and when I made that change it made a real significant difference. And you know along the same vein it grew me a lot too because I was probably pretty afraid, you know. It’s not like I grew up building furniture with my grandpa and my great grandpa. I was learning all this stuff on my own. I like to learn, I think I’m pretty good at it but still, even to this day, that’s an area where I will feel deficient sometimes and so I think I was a little intimated to just surrender to anyone else’s design request. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t know how to build it, but I might not know know how to build it well and make sure everything was going to work well with the joinery and the wood movement. I just had this strong desire to build pieces that were going to last and that I was going to be proud of. Oftentimes people would send me things and I would just not know how to build it the right way, where it was going to last, it took me a while to come around to that but it grew me a lot in doing so.

Kyle: Well it seems, you have a pretty deep portfolio of projects you’ve done. So, you must have made that transition pretty well.

Andrew: I’m always trying to learn and grow and just like anyone else. I look at things that other people do and think how in the world did they do that? You know, I can just feel down like I should know how to do that.

Kyle: Well I’m pretty interested to know, what is one project in particular you look back on really favorably? 

Andrew: In what respect? 

Kyle: It could be something that was really challenging and grew you, it could be something that turned out even better than you expected. Maybe something of sentimental value. 

Andrew: Ok I can give you three examples. One from recent memory, one from the middle, and one from the beginning.

Kyle Alright let’s hear it.

Andrew: I think the piece of furniture that I am most proud of is the first one I ever built before I was even a professional. I don’t have it photographed, it’s not on the website, but it’s in front of my door, I see it every day and my family uses it. It’s a bench, but it’s a beach that has inset doors, a shelf, and there’s all kinds of details on that bench that I pushed myself really hard to build. It’s fun to look at it today and I’m still proud of it. Looking at that I still would say, it is not an easy piece of furniture. You know we have better tools and more knowledge and all that stuff so it would be a lot easier to build now but it still wouldn’t be easy build. I’m still really proud of it and I think I just love it because it was the first real piece of furniture that I built.

Then in between would be the fish tank built ins at the Maquera house. I was really proud of that cabinetry, everything about that was really, really challenging and stressful.

Kyle: You’ll have to elaborate on that a little. Are you talking about a cabinet that has a fish tank in it?

Andrew: On that project they had a large, nearly floor to ceiling fish tank. It was a 10-foot-tall ceiling and we had to put a cabinet above and below the fish tank as well as all around the side to display the fish tank. We had to build the cabinet so that the front would look flush over the tank. The fish tank was not a moveable object, and you couldn’t scratch it. It was a pretty large cabinet and the build was really hard and it stretched me. I think and the way that it came out and the client’s satisfaction was great. I was really proud of that one. Fish Tank Built In Cabinet

Then the most recent one that comes to mind is the desk at the Barry house. I mean that really is just a display of like 7 years of learning. I say this all the time, I think most people would look at a piece of furniture and they’re like ‘how hard could that be to build?’ I don’t know if that’s what people would say when they look at that desk, but it was challenging to design, and challenging to build, but every last thing of it was amazing. It’s a big, curved, complex, veneered desk with all these intricate trim details and a curved brass toe kick. It just really, really pushed all of our different capabilities and I was super happy with the way that turned out.

Walnut Custom Executive Desk

Kyle: That’s awesome, thank you so much for sharing. I just have one more question concerning Open Door Furniture. I’m wondering if you could elaborate on what you feel the future is for Open Door. What is going on at Open Door Furniture that you are really excited about?

Andrew: Cabinets. I mean I love furniture don’t get me wrong, it is still going to be a core of what we do, but there are some different shifts that have happened in my life that have made me reevaluate the way I want to run my company. A core value from the beginning has always been people. I love building furniture, but I don’t want to build furniture by myself. It’s a really hard way to make a living on its own. It’s also hard to pay other guys to do it because you’re kind of a starving artist in a lot of ways. I think a lot of our clients may see our prices and might think we make a lot more money than we actually do, but it’s just an expensive business, not super scalable. So, we’ve started to really think about cabinetry, and make some investments for that in tooling. It’s exciting for me because I think we might have to have a bit bigger of a team to pull that off and it allows us to have and interact with more people in here, and invite them into this little familial environment were trying to create. Hopefully because we’re going to have a bigger pool of customers when it comes to cabinetry, we’ll generate a little more revenue and we’ll be able to pay people really well and provide benefits. I think the idea of it excites me because I think that it might allow us to do some things I’ve always wanted to do on the furniture side that wasn’t sustainable due to revenue and scalability. But even more than that, I really enjoy the process of trying to make something as good as we possibly can. I really want to bring that over to cabinetry, by making efficient processes in our shop, choosing the best building materials, working with the designer so that they feel good about our partnership, and helping design. I have a passion not only in the way we build, but also in giving the customer a really efficient, useable, fantastic kitchen experience. Bringing the details and the thoughtfulness of way that we think about furniture over to cabinetry is an exciting opportunity for me.

Kyle: That sounds like an exciting step forward. That concludes all my questions do you have any closing thoughts.

Andrew: No, I don’t think so.

Kyle: Thank you for your time, Andrew I really enjoyed talking with you.

Date of Interview Sept 1, 2022





Andrew DePalma
Andrew DePalma

Author

Andrew is the Owner of Open Door Furniture. He is passionate about building pieces of furniture that people love to see every day and can be enjoyed for generations.


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