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  • sydneyesmith89

Syds Fab Shop Origin Story

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

This is the project that started it all.

I built Angie’s Bench in the spring and summer of 2021. At the time, I was working a job where I loved my coworkers, but knew I was on a rapidly approaching deadline to full burnout. I was talking with friends and acquaintances inside and outside the industry, brainstorming my next steps, applying to a few jobs I felt I would be passionate in.

Around this time, my downstairs neighbor Angie asked if I would help her visualize a workspace for her new business, Comotubotanica (one of my sweetest memories of Angie is her telling me the origin story of that name, as she kept me company while I worked). We lived separate units in an old, quirky house in Houston. All of us tenants at the time were women, and we called ourselves a coven. We were far from being a commune, but we were mistaken for one more than once. It was a special little place and we had some special times together.

I was super inspired by Angie, and her vision for her company which is earthy and ethical and super hip. She wanted a workspace built that was functional and aesthetic. She said she was looking for a contractor to build it for her, and I told her I would be interested in taking it on. I was so stoked when she said yes and hopped in headfirst.

The project, from conception to design through the full build, spanned a season, and that season changed me. I had no workspace, so every day that I wanted to work, I would set up ‘shop’ in my parking space behind my house, and run extension cords from my place or Angies. It was hard work to set up and tear down every day, and the weather in Houston was ungodly hot. Anytime I wasn’t at my day job, I was out back, or in Angies place, building this thing.

Angie's Bench wore me down, but it was the kind of exhaustion that feels like gasoline—it burned in my chest and gave me this heady feeling I get whenever I’m in deep.

About halfway through the project, my Aunt Doris passed away. When I was younger, I’d visit Doris in the San Fernando valley and get completely lost in her world. Her house was full of craft supplies she had collected over the years—treasures she found or bought at a thrift store—all meticulously organized. She had multiple workspaces, with saws, sewing machines, everything fun. Everything in her home was something she had made. Distinctively hers, and scrappy and stunning. When a crack creaked up the drywall in her bedroom, she painted a vine along it, with leaves and fruit. She had this distinctive laugh, and whistled like nobody I’ve ever heard. When I was there, we’d have 10 projects going at once, and I’d return home with more skills and inspiration. Being with her, I felt I could make anything in the world. To me, and to so many, Doris was magic. I'm not sure she knew I felt that way.

Her loss, while expected, rocked me. And it fueled me. I threw myself in fully to the project, perpetually dirty and damp and hyper-focused. During that time, I worked in the heat often without music or podcasts, and found myself in long moving meditations, with no particular thoughts. Super Flow.

In all that silence and movement and sweat, something was happening in the depths of my being. I felt it percolating on for weeks without knowing what it was, agitated and sleepless. It was this thing inside me that was expanding and pushing out everything else, making room for what I needed to to realize.

Syds Fab Shop came to me in the middle of the night. I woke up, my heart slamming, and I knew it. I slid out of bed, grabbed my laptop and slammed on my keyboard for hours. The idea wasn’t fully formed then, it barely is now, but the core of it was this:

I needed to be an artist. I needed to make. And not just on the side—that wasn’t enough, or sustainable for me—making had to be my main thing. People do it, and I *know* I can do it, so why not me? My reasons for not doing it, I realized, weren’t my reasons at all—they were expectations from others that I had hardwired into a set of boundaries for my life. Once I realized those weren’t real, it felt like my path was wide open. I realized that being an artist, or doing *something* creative, has always been what I’ve wanted, but I’ve always betrayed my truer feelings and pursued more practical avenues. No more. I saw Syds Fab Shop and all it represented and I grabbed it so hard and wouldn’t let go.

Almost immediately, I began to share Syds Fab Shop with friends and family that I trusted. I started saying things out loud, testing them, figuring out what felt right and real. I started strategizing a transition. I started making it real. I put a date on the calendar for when I’d put in 2-month notice (bc I’m extra) and I stuck to it.

That was all about a year ago. This awakening was happening concurrent to my feverish completion of Angie's Bench. The project, and Doris’s death, and work, and heat, and this explosive realization of what direction I was headed in next—it’s a feeling I’ll never forget.

I loved this bench because it brought me to Syds Fab Shop, but for more tangible reasons also. I loved interacting with Angie as a client; listening to her dreams, and envisioning with her how this project would fit into these dreams. I loved brainstorming different designs, and finally landing on one. I found/salvaged about half of the materials for free—from roadside piles, from dumpsters, from kind strangers. The purchased materials were budget, but I did everything I could to make it look stunning. And it turned out. Angie’s Bench was nothing—not a whisper in the wind—and we made it something. It’s the coolest feeling in the world, and I want to do it for the rest of my life.

So, um, if you have a dream and want a cool piece to fit that’s part of that dream, let’s talk. I work with wood (obviously) but wouldn’t call myself a carpenter by any stretch. I love projects that are at the intersection of art and function. I’m loving paper mache right now, and am always stoked on paintings and murals. I’m open to building furniture, but I’m best suited for projects with a bit less precision required. If you’re interested in working together, let me know! I’ll let you know my process for commissions. You don’t have to know what you want yet—half the fun is figuring it out together. I’ll always be honest if I feel a project is outside my skillset.

Super retro stunning photos of Angie with the bench taken by Nadine Berns @nadineberns

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