Our Editorial Director, Joey Convertino, sat down with Patrick Hayes, founder of 1767 Designs, to learn about how he first stumbled into woodworking, the unique challenges of being an entrepreneur, and discovering the driving force behind his company in reclaiming wood.
Joey Convertino: You’re from Huntington Beach originally, right? How’d you end up in Nashville?
I didn’t come here thinking I would become a woodworker in a hip city that would embrace something like this sort of work. I came on a whim.
Patrick Hayes: I honestly had nothing better to do. I didn’t come to Nashville because I knew it was a “thing.” Jenny, my wife, got a job out here a little over two years ago, and after graduating from college I decided that I would give it a shot. I really didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t come here thinking I would become a woodworker in a hip city that would embrace something like this sort of work. I came on a whim.
J: So you didn’t even come to Nashville knowing that you wanted to do woodworking as a career?
P: No, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I have a musical background, so I think, naturally, I was trying to do something with music because I thought, “Why not, you are in music city?”
J: How long did you pursue that?
P: I think two months, all of January and February I sent out cover letters. I realized you need to know someone to get anywhere in the industry. So I quickly decided that wasn’t going to work, and I got a restaurant job in the meantime just to keep the lights on. And then, in doing that, I had a lot more free time than I knew what to do with because I wasn’t in school anymore. I moved out here with only my clothes and a computer and that was it, so I started building furniture for my apartment.
J: So that was the start?
P: Yeah, that was it. I built one coffee table because I had seen something somewhere and I was like, “that’s cool, I can do that”—like so many people say. But then I actually did it. And then I just got a cool response from a couple people I knew and decided to try selling them at the flea market.
J: How’d you get your first ones out there? Who were the few people?
P: Just showed some friends and family here, not more than five people who told me that it was really unique. And then I think Jenny and I were at Arrington Vineyards one weekend, and I was like, “I should just try to do this.” And then I just tried to do it, and then I just didn’t stop. That was the inception. The flea market was two or three weeks later. I worked at the restaurant at night and built tables during the day. I made four coffee tables and took them to the flea market, and I sold every one of them. And I was like, “okay, I can do this,” you know?
J: You sold out at the flea market?
P: Yeah, but then I never sold another one there. I went back two or three more times, but it wasn’t as successful. So that first time was just dumb luck, happenstance.
J: So you started off just making coffee tables?
P: Yeah, just coffee tables. But at the flea market, I had one of the coffee tables propped up in front of my little booth without the legs on it. And someone came up and said, “this is cool, is this a piece of art?” And I said, “oh no, it’s a table,” and I showed them. And they said, “oh, well, can I just buy it without the legs as a piece of art?” And I was like, “yeah, totally.” And I just started doing the wall art from then on.
J: So a customer propelled your next evolution?
It wasn’t some grand scheme, you know? I just sort of fell into stuff.
P: Yeah, it was weird. That’s how the art thing started. I thought, “oh, people will hang these on their walls.” So I started making smaller ones. It wasn’t some grand scheme, you know? I just sort of fell into stuff. I figured it out as I went. Which is totally different from any other business venture I’ve ever tried to do. It was always: I need to have these ten things perfect before I could start doing this. So this kind of showed me how to get something and go with it; you’ll figure it out and morph and transform along the way.
J: What year was that?
P: I built the coffee table for myself in March of last year. My first flea market was the end of April.
J: So there was a month between making furniture for yourself and turning it into a business?
P: Month to month and a half at most. I would literally work from 8am in the morning to 2pm, then get ready, go to the restaurant and work 3:30pm to midnight and then do it all over again. I just didn’t want to work in restaurants anymore, so that is why I was pushing myself really hard.
J: So it seems like it came out of necessity and then you realized you could make money off it. At any point were you driven by passion or how has the passion developed along the way?
P: I’ve always enjoyed being crafty, if you will. Any place I’ve ever lived, if we needed a desk or a coffee table, I would build it. It was never anything fancy; it would be made of plywood and 2×4’s from home depot, but I enjoyed being able to make what I needed. So, it’s something I’ve always enjoyed, but I’ve never pursued it hard enough to figure out that I loved it. It was always fun, but this process has showed me that it is something I’m really passionate about. I am always driven to do creative things, but I didn’t know woodworking was going to be an outlet for creativity, and it became that.
J: Where does the name 1767 designs come from?
I didn’t want to fit into a mold or confine myself. I wanted some ambiguity to be able to grow into, especially when I didn’t even know what I was yet or what I would become.
P: The name is literally the straight distance from where I moved from in California to where I first moved to in Franklin, TN. I didn’t want something that was claiming to be something else; I didn’t want to fit into a mold or confine myself. I wanted some ambiguity to be able to grow into, especially when I didn’t even know what I was yet or what I would become. It gave me room to become whatever I wanted to be.
J: Do you see yourself as primarily a woodworker or an entrepreneur?
P: I would say I am an entrepreneur primarily. Woodworking is my current path, but I am always looking for opportunities from a business standpoint.
J: What do you find most difficult about being an entrepreneur?
P: How to scale your business. How to take it from just being one guy in a workshop to managing three or four people that I work with. So it’s difficult to learn how to delegate and let go a little bit while holding onto the things that really matter to me in the business. But that all comes back to being able to grow or scale it so that the business can take on a life of its own, so that it is not completely dependent on me. I’d like to get to a point where I can step back and operations can keep going—that is the most difficult place to get but it’s the most ideal.
J: Take me through the process of your product—from beginning to end.
P: Everything we use is sourced from homes that are being demolished here in Nashville, which is happening all the time. First and foremost in the process is finding the homes that we are going to salvage the wood from. This is a big part of the process that a lot of people don’t realize; it is probably the biggest part of the process.
We are not making things from wood that we can buy from your local lumber store. There is a lot of time spent in finding the places we are going to get the wood from. We spend anywhere from 3-7 days in a house, depending on how much time we have. Sometimes they tell us that they are tearing it down in two days, sometimes they tell us a week. So you have to get what you need to get but also know what is worth spending time on and what is not. I would love to be able to take everything, but you can’t; you have to pick and choose.
J: How have you learned over time what to choose?
P: I’m still learning. When I first went into a house, the first one I ever did, it probably took me as much time to take the wood out of one room as we can now do out of an entire house.
J: But you were by yourself in the beginning?
P: Yeah, I was by myself, but I also didn’t think I needed as much. Now I’ll walk into a house and tear down all the walls, pull up all the floors, take the doors, the mantles, whereas before I might choose only one room. I didn’t know any better. So it was both time and being by myself—I had to be more selective about how my time was being used.
It wasn’t my full time job at the start of it; it was just something I did in my time off. I was also driving a Passat at the time so I was limited in what I could fit in my trunk. And to top it off, I was living in Franklin, twenty minutes outside of the city, so I would have to do three or four trips all the way down to Franklin. Plus, I was living in an apartment at the time where I was storing all my wood on the balcony and had to hike it up three floors of stairs. It was completely impractical and a lot of restrictions.
Now I have the space, and I can take it all. Over time, I’ve learned that there are many parts of the house that have value that I didn’t see at the beginning. It’s not only knowing what to get, but also the order in which to get it.
J: How’d you decide on using reclaimed wood?
P: Well, starting out it was strictly about the way it looked. I thought it was cool; it has a patina that you can’t fake. I really hated going to places and seeing people paint and sand wood to make it look old; I think it is cheesy. If you just spend the time to look for it, you can find materials that are already beautiful—something that you can’t match. But, in doing that, I really found what the brand is about now.
People are bummed that with the growth of Nashville comes the loss of history, with the tearing down of these old structures to throw up shotgun housing and skyscrapers.
Originally, I went into houses because that is all I could get. But then it turned into, “wow, there are some really cool stories behind these homes that extend beyond even the fact that it is reclaimed.” So it’s become about telling a story. It was something I stumbled upon rather than something I set out to do. I found that people cared where the wood came from. There is a sentimental attachment to it. People are bummed that with the growth of Nashville comes the loss of history, with the tearing down of these old structures to throw up shotgun housing and skyscrapers. Like other Nashvillians, this concerned me; so I am trying to take a bad thing and make something good from it. I am trying to make sure that these homes don’t just go to the dump. It’s my way of helping preserve the history and architecture in a different form.
I’ve always been drawn to old structures, to old architecture, to the way things were. Things aren’t made the way they used to be. We’ve lost the attention to detail; it’s all about money now, how we can make things quick and cheap. Whereas before they were making things with oak because they wanted it to last hundreds of years, now they are building them with fake wood. And to now tear down these structures is heart-breaking.
J: What do you think that says about our culture?
P: What we already know: we are a throw away culture. We don’t fix things anymore; our TV breaks, we throw it away. There used to be businesses that just repaired things, and now I don’t see those. We don’t build things to last anymore.
J: Would you say this is the driving influence behind your work?
P: I don’t see my work as sticking it to the man or anything because I don’t even know if I have that much power. I don’t think this is me resisting our throw-away culture or anything; I don’t think I have a say in whether this happens or not. I am just trying to create a positive from a negative.
J: Any upcoming shows?