Dreamers + Doers highlights emerging artists, entrepreneurs, and up-and-coming ones to watch. Whether it’s starting a new business, creating something beautiful, or just daring to do things differently, we stand behind those taking steps toward something new.
To kick off the Dreamers + Doers series, we are highlighting the work of Shaun Wallace, the Santa Barbara-based woodworker and builder behind Gopherwood Design/Build. Shaun got his start as a UO Display Artist in 2009, and has since gone on to develop his own brand, where he conceives and constructs projects ranging from intricately hand-turned wooden bowls to large-scale installations. Talented, humble, and hard-working, we keep collaborating with Shaun as much as we can — most recently, he was part of a team that constructed an complex three-part display build-out inside the new location of our Westwood store, relocating down the street into an expanded space later this month.
We asked Shaun to let us follow him around for the day and learn more about how he works, what influences him, and how taking on challenges produces the biggest rewards.
Above: Shaun at Westwood — all in a day's work
How did this all start?
I grew up in Huntington Beach in the '80s. It was a time of expansion for most the communities in Southern California and my father worked as a framer all over the Southland. As early as age 15 I was working summers on jobs in LA, Orange County, and the Inland Empire. I was a laborer at first, but as I got older and more skilled I was introduced to all the general tools of woodworking. I fell away from construction during college and worked as a butcher for a number of years.
During this time I began painting ply panels as gifts for friends, a creative outlet that eventually landed me a job as a visual merchandiser for Nordstrom. [Then in 2009] I found a great fit for my passion at Urban Outfitters as a Display Artist in Santa Barbara, an area where I still live and work. While working with UO I was fortunate enough to travel all over the US and Canada and meet dozens of other craftsmen and artists. This period is where I really got serious about what I do: I rented a small shop and started working nights and weekends for friends and clients who found me by way of UO. I was also making small goods in the shop when work was light. I made a set of wooden brass knuckles for some friends at the UO home office and a live edge ray gun for a charity auction…[and also] started making them for sale at [UO stores]. I left Urban Outfitters two months ago to go full-time with my company, Gopherwood Design/Build
Above: The register build-out and details within Shaun's recent project at the new UO Westwood location.
Can you share details about the recent Westwood store project you worked on?
This Westwood project consisted of three separate areas of the men's store sharing a consistent build: a 16x18 foot wall, a 12x12 foot stand display, and a cash-wrap station. From the get-go I saw an opportunity to hone my router skills by incorporating a quarter-inch dado [a groove cut into one piece of wood so that another piece of wood will fit tightly] in all of our horizontal boards and joints. We agreed it would elevate the detail and strength of the build, as well as speed up installation.
We milled and ripped for a couple days, installed framework and built interior frames for about three more, and finally installed everything pictured in about a day and a half with the aid of a couple scissor lifts.
Can you share some sources of inspiration?
I like drives on the 101 to the north: the ranch lands of the central coast are awe-striking.
Talking shop with my dad for hours.
Walking my friend Don’s sawmill up in San Luis Obisbo.
The work that other dudes put on Instagram (check out @Etrine
, that guy’s next level).
How would a good friend describe your aesthetic?
Heavy! Everything I make weighs too much. Or maybe something like: raw, contradictory, and fun.
Above: Various projects at different stages of progress, via Instagram
Offer two pieces of advice to your 20-year-old self.
1. When given the choice between the easy thing and the hard thing, do the hard thing. It’s never a waste of time or talent. When you have the strength and patience to strive through adversity the rest of life is easy.
2. Give of yourself. Whether you donate talent, money, or time. Giving is a key source of happiness. It’ll keep you humble.
What one thing you’ve made are you most proud of? Alternatively, tell us a story about something you made that was a huge flop.
Most proud of: A month ago I built a mid-century dry bar for a client here in town. It was my first attempt at fine cabinetry. It had inset lighting, custom glass doors and mirrors, push touch drawer sliders, and drop-leaf bar surface. The whole thing was very clean and worked beautifully.
Flop: I made a simple bench a couple years ago. It was made using some pine that we salvaged from a sawmill's trash pile. It was big, beautiful, and looked bulletproof. And it was, until the summer sun hit 90 degrees. The thing started oozing pitch like a stuck pig. Now every summer I have to go back to the restaurant where the bench is and refinish it. It’s still barely usable on one end. Now I pay for the kilning no matter what.
Walk us through a typical day-in-the-life.
7am. Instagram. Coffee. Emails. Design time if needed. Shopping if needed, this involves the very important BS session with the local vendors. Back to the shop and turn on the dust collector, get dirty for a few hours. Lunch in my courtyard. Emails again. Back to the machines. Make dinner plans with the lady. Glue and clamp for tomorrow or sand and lay down a primer coat. Sweep the shop and game plan for tomorrow. Wednesday and Thursday evenings my apprentice comes and we’ll work until 8pm. I also keep the grounds for my church so there’s a lot of small tasks that I'll throw in to the mix to keep it interesting.
Above: More Urban Outfitters build-out projects
Can you share some items on a recent to-do list?
For my last project I did 44 side tables for the Alamo Motel. That project looked something like this:
Glue up 6x6 fur beam to 18x18x24 block for sample table.
Chain saw to geometric footprint, add leather and tack.
Sample approval and materials deposit.
Send sample to mill for duplication. (Request kiln dry!!!)
Shop for leather (4 full sides, one double shoulder).
Order tacks and fabric guard online.
Home Depot for polyurethane, sandpaper, tack hammer, etc.
Receive delivery of table blanks, pay mill.
Sand and polyurethane 44 of these 65-pound chunks of pine.
Rough and finish cut leather tops.
Adhere leather to wood, bevel finish, and saddle soap.
Wipe down and fabric guard.
Hand-nail 100 antique finish brass round top tacks to each table.
Stack in the corner and order the U-Haul.
Load Drive up to Los Alamo and unload.
Try and talk Chris into making the beds too.
Cross fingers and make bed sample.
Above: A table for the Ojai Rancho Motel in Ojai, CA.
Complete the sentence:
I like it when…it rains
I never want to be asked...for a refund
Success is…just being happy
My biggest fear is...going blind
I’d like to be…in Thailand
I’m secretly obsessed with…awful romantic comedies
I am looking for…a foot massage
I dislike…forgetting my sunglasses
My style icon is…Chris Woodhead
I am good at…making pancakes
I am bad at…keeping a diet
I recommend…Tom Waits
I couldn’t live without…salsa
All images courtesy of Shaun Wallace