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 blue-collar Dad said many times, “son, I don’t want you to grow up to take a job. I want you to grow up to create 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. The pay was good, and a privileged, suburban lifestyle of comfort and ease began.
That all abruptly changed five years later after 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 life, this profound fact; the ghetto is and continues to be because of brain drain.
Integration and Affirmative Action siphoned the talented 10th from the community – educating and channeling many of the best minds into the corporate and suburban melting pot. The unforeseen effects left the masses of extended families, in inner cities all across America, to aimlessly wander without sufficient knowledge, leadership, and organization.
Suddenly realizing that I was apart of the 10%, those childhood words spoken by my father sprung up. Within days, I quit Ford.
Seeking a warmer climate to fulfill my Dad’s assignment, my new bride Renee, and I moved to L.A. Within four months of arriving, I lost in a risky business deal that Renee was opposed to, nearly six figures. All else was taken soon after.
Traumatized, we spent the next seven 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 the suffering, 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, just after being featured on Walgreens’ corporate magazine cover, I was fired 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 which became my passion. I could not take that job.
I would later take a commission-only, outside design/sales position at California Closets, where I met the daughter-in-law of the founder of Bashas’, a large grocery store chain in the Phoenix-Metro area.
This was our big break. She wanted solid wood office furniture, but at that time, California Closets only worked in laminates. When I informed her that we just started a woodworking shop, she offered us the contract.
Only Divine assistance allowed us to pull off this job because we knew little about high-end woodworking. We had ten more years of struggle to endure before becoming skillful at transforming raw materials into expressive narratives of our client’s personality and values.
Purpose alone kept us going.
Today, Paul Rene is the recipient of numerous design awards and editorials. In 2018, I was named DESIGN ICON by a respected industry trade magazine. In 2019 we received two 1st Place Design Excellence Awards from the American Society of Interior Designers.
In November of 2019, I received an invitation to speak at The Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, Netherlands. My lecture was entitled: If the Artist Isn’t Free, Society Stagnates.
In 2021, I was 1 of 7 furniture designers chosen nationally to compete in Ellen DeGeneres’ Next Great Designer series, now streaming on HBOmax.
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. Destiny planned for me to endure life on the bottom for nearly 20 years, to develop the necessary empathy for all those seeking a way up from that condition – whoever they are.
So, upon my rise at a certain time, I would not only create that job, which I did, but I would also awaken to and accept my purpose to teach and inspire others who are fallen to create a job for themselves.
Paul Rene’s unique aesthetic language is the consequence and reflection of my transformational journey.