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HomeNEWSGlass half full: Behind the scenes at Ben Glass Furniture

Glass half full: Behind the scenes at Ben Glass Furniture

Kiwi furniture designer Ben Glass is a self-made man who has not only made all his own products, but also did the fit out of his showroom and factory. The 25-year-old designs, creates and sells Scandinavian-influenced furniture.

Glass, who has only one other employee, says he has co-located his factory and shop so he doesn’t have to be in two places at the same time.

“If I make something new, I can put it in on display immediately,” he says.

“Customers can see how we make it, I can show them different types of wood and different design options.”

E-commerce is important to Ben Glass Furniture, as all of the Grey Lynn-based company’s sales are made online through email.

Customers peruse his furniture through Facebook, Instagram and his website, and then the store acts as a showroom and pick up point for the furniture.

Glass is the son of a former Maori wood carver and was born and bred in Pirongia, a small town of just over 1000 people in the Waikato.

At the age of 21, Glass founded his furniture company specialising in wood under his own name in 2010. The significance of his last name is not lost on him.

“It’s a little bit misleading,” he laughs.

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He operated out of Hamilton doing mostly custom jobs, such as bookshelves or dressing tables.

Then in 2013, he did a major fit out of Hamilton restaurant Chim Choo Ree’s tables and bar.

He says having products he designed and a place to showcase them made him realise he wanted to produce and sell his own designs.

So in 2014, he moved up to the big smoke – Grey Lynn, Auckland Central.

It was a decisive move for Glass, who studied music at University and had previously worked as a guitar teacher.

He says that with music, what he created didn’t necessarily turn out the way he wanted, but he is always happy with the furniture he creates.

“The biggest motivator for why I’m doing this is because whatever I see in my head, I can make it. The visions come to life,” he says.

The premises he found on Newton Rd had had a diverse past life: it was previously used as a garage to store a Lamborghini in, and before that, a place to stow coffee beans.

The one thing it was missing was a commercial fit out, so a lot of work had to be done to get the showroom up and running.

The roller door that the Lamborghini had previously purred out of had to go, and floor-to-ceiling glass doors replaced it to catch the eye of passers by.

“I wanted [the store] to be approachable, for people walking past to come in and have a look and if they were driving past, I wanted them to look at it from the outside,” Glass says.

Glass erected a wall was erected to divide the 126 square metre garage space into a workshop and a show room.

Framing timber was used as the main material for the walls, so Glass could craft it himself with the help of a few friends.

It worked out cheaper that way, he says, and he wanted to be able to say he made everything in the store.

The showroom is a cosy 20 square metres and has an art gallery feel.

Glass says he wanted the space to act as a blank canvas for the furniture, so the colour scheme is kept neutral, with white walls, grey concrete floor and charcoal-framed doors.

This makes the pops of colour stand out.

The almond-coloured Teak wood feature wall and the mustard coloured door are eye catching and get the most mentions from customers, Glass says.

His signature furniture pieces provide the rest of the paint to the blank canvas and fill the space.

Some of his most popular designs, such as the European Oak low chair and the Talma American Ash table, are featured.

The show room has also provided the opportunity for Glass to show what else he can do, besides furniture.

This includes lighting, timber wall installations and interior joinery.

If you peeled back the walls of the clean, stark showroom, you’d find the cluttered, chaotic space where Glass makes his designs come to life.

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The 106 square metre workshop hosts a myriad of wood-shaping equipment and tools, including Japanese hand tools he was taught how to use from a temple carpenter.

He says the financial crisis in 2008 helped him when he was starting out, as he could buy his machinery at cabinet maker liquidation sales.

“It was kind of like going to a funeral at the auctions, as there was millions of dollars of equipment going for thousands of dollars,” Glass says.

“But it meant I could start my business.”

In the workshop, Glass designs and builds the furniture himself, which he says is a rarity now days.

“To me its really obvious when a piece of furniture isn’t made by a person and is designed on a computer,” he says.

“It’s almost everything I see [now days]. Either that or it’s made very simply.”

He says he’d like to expand out to be a full showroom and retail store eventually.

“I’m a bit under resourced, being one person managing all this, but I don’t think it’s impossible,” he says.

This story was originally published in NZ Retail magazine issue 737, April/May 2015.

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