RISE: The Making of Paul Rene.


I was raised in a blue-collar home in Detroit in the 1970s. Hard work and righteousness shaped my upbringing. 


These two themes would guide me through many trials and tribulations over the next twenty-five years.

In the early 20th century, Detroit was the world’s automotive capital with a thriving middle class, and my father was part of this Black blue-collar reality.

My father was a millwright at Chevrolet and maintained the machines stamping the automobile parts. Growing up, he often preached, “Son, I don’t want you to take a job; I want you to create a job.”

Living in Detroit and not being influenced by the automobile industry in some aspects is almost impossible. Even Motown founder Berry Gordy worked at a Lincoln-Mercury plant before founding the legendary Motown record label. Someone once told me that to be a car designer, you must have gasoline in your blood, which means you must love automobiles inside and out: you need to love their form and function.

With that background, it seemed inevitable that I would be involved in some aspect of the automobile industry, but first, I made a detour after high school and joined the Army, where I rose to officer ranks. Later I studied Industrial Design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.

When I graduated in 1992, there were only about 1000 car designers globally, and fewer than ten of these designers were Black. So, I was blessed to be offered an elite position as a concept car designer at Ford. I received a considerable salary and all the perks, but I left after four years because I did not have gasoline in my blood. I was only interested in the aesthetic aspect of automobiles. Something was still missing from my life.

“My father often said, “I don’t want you to grow up to take a job. I want you to grow up to create a job.” Throughout my formative years, my father’s words remained tucked away in the back of my mind.”

While at Ford, I attended a lecture in which the speaker urged Black men to take responsibility for their communities’ mental, physical, spiritual, and economic health. The speaker asked us to consider that the vast majority of well-educated Blacks were enticed away from their communities into the suburban corporate melting pot.

Inevitably, this brain drain left ailing, impoverished neighborhoods in its wake. As one who had benefited from the civil rights advancements of my parent’s generation, I felt obligated to carry that baton further. I decided then and there to dedicate my life and talents to creating employment opportunities for others.

“My father’s words, combined with the lecture, formed a potent mix in my soul. Within days, I quit my job at Ford.”



California Dreaming

Seeking a warmer climate to fulfill my father’s assignment, my wife of 5 months, Renee, and I moved to Los Angeles, California. I quickly found that many of the teachings poured into me in suburban Michigan were not transferable to the City of Lost Angels.

In a risky business deal, I lost all of our nearly six figures of savings within four months of arriving in LA. We spent the next seven years reeling.

Just after our son was born, I remember going to the grocery store with a Ziploc bag full of pennies, nickels, and dimes; this is how low we had fallen.

“Despite the suffering, I was determined not to turn back.”



Furniture Artist Paul Rene

In 2002 our worsening economic condition forced my worn-out family and me to Phoenix, Arizona, where we sought refuge with my in-laws. Soon I was working at Walgreens, the classic American pharmacy. I so excelled at building creative displays of Tylenol and Charmin that in 2005, I was featured on Walgreens’ corporate magazine cover, and I was offered a promotion to the store manager. Just as conditions were stabilizing for my young family, my dad’s words, “I want you to create a job,” resurrected themselves in the soil of my mind.


Although my family needed the additional income, as with Ford, that salaried position threatened my newfound purpose, so I refused the promotion and was fired. My wife had had enough of my economic choices, and my savior complex and our marriage did not survive.

“Not having money opens the door to greater creativity.”


Furniture chose me

After Walgreens, I began designing for California Closets, a national custom closet manufacturer. There I learned how to sell and their manufacturing and installation process. During this period, Phoenix was experiencing a housing boom such that I could begin to see my path to creating a job for myself. I would design and make custom furniture as art using all that I learned at California Closets and Ford. A great idea with only one drawback: I didn’t know how to make furniture, so I needed to find someone who did.

Since Detroit had an industrial district, I assumed Phoenix also had one. I got on the freeway. Once in the city, I picked the first exit and found an industrial park where I came across some men making furniture and speaking Spanish. Once again, this was a great find with one challenge; I needed to speak more Spanish.

“each of us is born as a divine answer to a problem.” 


About four years into working for California Closets, I was assigned a wealthy client who wanted more than a functional closet. They wanted something sculptural and elaborate and I designed that for them. During the second phase of the sales process, the client learned the California Closet product was made using particle board. I lost the deal because the client’s quality expectations were unmet.

On my way out the door, I nervously turned and faced the client, informing them that I had recently opened my shop and could build the product from solid wood. The client, invested in my design skills, offered me a 50k contract.

I employed the original Spanish-speaking crew I had found in West Phoenix to build and install the job. We struggled to pull off this job because neither they nor I understood the language of high-end woodworking that signaled luxury.

During the installation, I would have a chance encounter with a Mexican immigrant with basic woodworking skills. When he told me his name was Rene, I knew this was no coincidence since my ex-wife’s name was also Renee. I began to feel that my journey was guided.

Each day on the job site, we locked eyes and nodded. That was it! I couldn’t speak Spanish, and Rene couldn’t speak English. Nevertheless, we were communicating. Within a few months, we rented a 14’ X 14’ aluminum storage shed in the impoverished section of West Phoenix using the only tools we could afford – a few old pawnshop power tools, some held together by duct tape.


For the first year of our partnership, we communicated solely using Google Translate and travel books with common phrases in Spanish and English.


Ten years in the desert

After this first job, we struggled for ten more years before mastering the craft of transforming raw materials into a spiritual rendering of our client’s personality and style. We were on our way. Our design philosophy was beginning to separate our work from the competition. Today, Paul Rene is the recipient of numerous design awards and editorials.


In 2018, I was named DESIGN ICON by an industry trade magazine. In 2019 we received two 1st-place Design Excellence Awards from the American Society of Interior Designers.

paul rene awarded design icon

In 2019, I received an invitation to speak at The Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, Netherlands.

Furniture Artist Paul Rene

In 2021, I was 1 of 7 furniture designers chosen nationally to compete in Ellen DeGeneres’ Next Great Designer series, which streamed on HBOmax.

In 2022, I was named ‘Master of the Southwest’ by Phoenix Home and Garden. In 2023, The New York Times named me 1 of 9 top Black furniture designers from the African diaspora.

Furniture Artist Paul Rene

The New York times names Paul Rene 1 of 9 top Black Designers in the African Diaspora

“Rene(e) means to be reborn.”


I liken my fall and rise to that of the Phoenix. The legendary bird would build a nest of aromatic wood and set it on fire, and rise from its ashes. Ironically, the meaning of the name Rene(e); is to be reborn. Upon my rise, I would not only create the job my father had told me about so many years prior, but I would also awaken to and accept my purpose to teach and inspire others to create jobs and spaces for themselves, to build their table and take a seat.


I would return after my fall by learning how to cut, hammer, nail, and sand raw wood with coarse sandpaper. This is where I learned how to transform wood from a raw state into an art object. Like the wood we were working, I would have to endure being chiseled by a succession of trying experiences for nearly 20 years. Paul Rene’s unique aesthetic language is the consequence and reflection of my transformational journey. We believe the divine is in the details.

Welcome to Paul Rene. Custom-made modern furniture is deeply personal, so we eschew the traditional showroom because we do not repeat designs. The uniqueness of the luxury artistic and handcrafted furniture that we do for you reflects your oneness, which has no copy.

Understanding you best happens in your home, your showroom.

Virtual appointments are available. 602.282.3396