Emily Brock is the owner and creator at Board & Bread workshop, a Nashville based studio hand crafting functional kitchen goods and homewares. As a 3rd generation woodworker, she follows a great-grandfather who was a staircase maker, and a father who has been honing his craft since well before Emily was born. Today her father’s woodworking focuses on the patient, artisan skill of creating sculptured furniture.
Emily came to woodworking by a rich personal desire to experience cooking and eating in what now sometimes seems like an old world tradition – thoughtfully, simply, and intentionally. The simple details are what transform the experience for her. A small wooden bowl of sea salt at the table, a glass carafe of water and heavy bottomed glasses, natural light streaming in over hand hewn tables… these details of dining and sharing life over food are what inspired Board & Bread into existence.
We caught up with Emily to talk about her inspiration, design process and favorite things.
WHAT DREW YOU TO CONTINUE THE FAMILY HISTORY OF WORKING WITH WOOD?
I grew up with a father who had been woodworking since the 70’s, and his grandfather also had been a woodworker. He built staircases. My dad originally focused on arts and crafts style furniture, and in his early 50’s reemerged as a fine furniture designer and artist now making sculptured furniture. The lines of his pieces, the subtle feminine “S” curves as he called them, they made his work. I completely followed his form without realizing it once I got started. Our lines are very similar, and we both aren’t afraid to take off enough material (with the knowledge of not taking it too far for functionality,) to make wood seem sexy and delicate. Also – the proof of both our work is in the finish. My sanding process is incredibly intense, but it yields silky smooth results. You forget its wood. I then use a blend of oil and wax that I make to protect the pieces and make them shine with a matte finish. The first project I ever did in the shop was a pedestal cake stand that he helped me make on the lathe. I got to do bits and pieces of the actual work (he was terrified I’d hurt myself,) and then all the sanding, but once we put the first coat of oil on the walnut stand I was hooked. It could easily be identified as my most important professional, creative memory to date.
YOU SPENT YOUR CHILDHOOD IN GEORGIA, HOW HAS THAT INFLUENCED YOUR STYLE AND THE WAY YOU WORK?
Oh wow, I’ve never really thought about this before. I think my childhood was overall incredibly devoid of worldly culture. Until I went off to college, the most I knew about “design” or real trends came from my occasional trips to Atlanta to visit my sister. She’d take me to Anthropologie and I thought it was heaven. I spent a lot of time watching my dad work in his shop as a kid, but I had no context for his style or what he was contributing to the spectrum of woodworking. I would never ever recommend not leaving home for college, unless you grew up in NYC, Portland, LA, or somewhere like that. College is all about exposure, to anything and everything. In college I followed a graphic design degree through to graduation, but the real meat of my college years was investing myself in the community. I went to the University of Georgia, which is a huge public University, but the town, Athens, Georgia is a true gem. I worked for a small batch coffee roaster while in college, and except for Board & Bread, it is still the best job I ever had. The philosophy of the business was (and is) all about transparency of production (from seed to cup,) and quality. At this job I learned what kind of business owner I wanted to be.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU REALIZE YOU WANTED TO START BOARD & BREAD AND DEVELOP A BUSINESS WITH YOUR WOOD WORKING SKILLS?
I am one of those people who just can’t sit still if they are unhappy with what they do every day. It blows my mind that my parents did the same job, every day, for 30 years. I was working at a design agency as a graphic designer out in Washington state. I had the whole idea of Board & Bread in my head for at least a year before I even started buying any shop tools. After I had visited my parents in Georgia and talked my dad into making a pedestal cake stand with me, I knew this was something I was really interested in. During the recession (which at its worst was the year of my college graduation,) I had worked in a lot of bakeries and pastry kitchens. I also had really fallen headfirst into cooking and baking during my free time at home. Making food, sharing meals, the community, and the details of the experience became a way of life for me, a source of comfort and inspiration. I am always all about the details and finding beauty in the everyday. I really tried to start curating kitchen tools and serving ware that I found reflected those ideas, and I had a lot of trouble with the kitchen tools specifically. Everything I found in stores was either cheap, not durable, or poorly designed or executed. So I finally just got so fed up with having the “day job” life and I bought a bandsaw and some basic carving tools and started making spoons and some serving boards and it just took off from there. I knew how badly I needed to be doing my own thing, so it wasn’t too long before I was developing my branding and starting my website. It took about 8-10 months from there to really get established with some solid designs and start growing.