This is an excerpt from “Getting Crafty” from the September 2018 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine, available on newsstands now. Subscribe to Grand Rapids Magazine for more articles like this one.
Admit it: you have one. You’ve probably admired someone else’s at least once. It’s that art or hobby you’ve said for years you’re going to start one day. Maybe you’ve dreamed you could learn to paint with watercolors, learn martial arts, sail or weave. Perhaps you want to learn woodworking, ballroom dancing or sewing. Maybe you sit in front of a computer monitor each day, wishing you could walk out the door and make a living making jewelry or furniture. Why not? Others have. Were they born with an innate ability? Or did they learn and perfect their craft? The answer varies, but many artisans making a living — or supplementing their living — with the hobby they love say they simply found a way, jumped in and did it.
Furniture maker Steve Uren left the Upper Peninsula and a 14-year career in the mental health field to move to Grand Rapids and work for himself, designing and making furniture. It was the birth of his daughter 18 years ago that led Uren and his wife to decide they weren’t going to continue working for others and pay someone else to watch over their child.
“It just took off,” said Uren, who began making furniture part time in his garage. “I’m very rich because I do what I absolutely love to do. We live a very comfortable life. I’m very happy.”
Uren, who’s self-taught, has won over 50 awards, including a Best in Show award in Chicago’s 2015 Old Town Art Fair. He uses only Michigan woods, including walnut, cherry and birch, and said some of his most popular pieces are tall, double-door cabinets, credenzas and small tables.
Is Uren “living the dream”? It seems so. Being self-employed, working at home and being financially successful is the dream of many, and Uren is there. So how can others get there, too?
“I get emails from people I don’t even know who want to get into woodworking and the arts show portion of it. What I tell them is you have to be unique. Don’t look at someone else’s designs and say, ‘I can do that.’ All the artists I know are doing their own thing,” Uren said.
But where to begin? Uren suggested starting as simply and easily as checking out the many free videos available on the internet and seeking out local woodworking courses.
*Main photo by Johnny Quirin