As a youngster, I didn’t know what my Dad was talking about, so those words just fell somewhere in the soil of my mind.
The Making of Paul Rene.
Growing up in Detroit, my Dad said many times; “Son, I don’t want you to grow up to take a job. I want you to grow up to make a job.”
After high school, I joined the army and rose to officer ranks. Later I studied Industrial Design, which included interning in France. Soon after, Ford Motor hired me as a concept car designer. I was paid well and thus a privileged, suburban lifestyle of comfort and ease began.
Abruptly that all changed in 1995 when I attended a lecture urging Black men to take responsibility for our dysfunctional communities. It was there, that I heard for the very first time in my in life, this profound fact; the ghetto is and continues to be because of brain drain.
Government policies of integration and Affirmative Action siphoned the most talented 10th from the Black community. Educating and channeling that 10th into corporate and suburban culture. The effects left the masses, in inner cities all across America, to flounder in ignorance and without leadership or organization.
Suddenly realizing that I was one of the siphoned, those childhood words spoken by my father sprung up. Within days I quit Ford.
Eager to reverse course, but in a warmer climate – I and my new bride Renee, drove to. L.A. in our new Audi. Within 4 months of leaving, I lost in a risky business deal that Renee was opposed to, nearly 6 figures. All else was taken soon after.
Traumatized, we spent the next 7 years reeling. I remember going to the grocery store just after my son was born, with a Ziploc bag full of pennies, nickels, and dimes. Despite, I was not turning back.
In 2002 however, worsening conditions did force my worn-out family and I to Phoenix, seeking refuge in my in-laws. Although help came, my marriage didn’t survive.
While stocking shelves at Walgreens, I had a chance encounter with an engineering student who had basic woodworking skills. Together we rented a 14’ X 14’ aluminum Cube storage shed, in the impoverished section of west Phoenix. With a few very worn, pawnshop power tools, some held together by duct tape, we intended to make cabinets and furniture as a side hustle, to engage the housing boom that was driving economic growth at that time.
In 2005 Walgreens fired me for refusing a promotion to store manager. Although my family really needed that additional income, that salaried position posed a threat to my side hustle hours. I could not take that job.
But I would take a commission-only, outside design/sales position at California Closets.
We got a lucky break when I met the daughter-in-law of the founder of Bashas’ grocery stores. She wanted solid wood office furniture, but at that time California Closets only worked in laminates. When I informed her that I just started a woodworking shop, she gave me the job.
Only luck again would allow us to pull off the Bashas’ job, because we knew next to nothing about high-end woodworking. We had 10 more years of struggle to go thru, before becoming skillful at our new craft.
Today, Paul Rene is the recipient of numerous design awards and editorials. In 2018, I was crowned DESIGN ICON by a respected industry trade magazine. And recently, Paul Rene was named to Scottsdale Modern Luxury’s 2019 LUXE LIST, comprised of 14 top home industry professionals; architects, custom home builders, a real estate agent to pro athletes, etc. Some on that list I idolized for years.
I liken my fall and rise to that of the Phoenix. The legendary bird that burns itself every 500 years and then rises from its ashes evolved. I had to taste the bottom for those 20 years, to develop the necessary empathy for the forgotten. So upon my rise, I would return to do as my Dad told me to.
I did make that job.
Our custom work is a symbol of transformation. If the raw wood could talk, it would tell a story of being nailed and hammered until it became an object of beauty and greater value.
Paul Rene, more importantly, is a vehicle for community transformation – a missing example of productivity. Currently, we are exploring ways to start a woodworking training and apprenticeship program.