MEET THE MAKER: Jim Standerfer AKA Lumbering Behemoth

Jim and I have been working together for a while now. Together we have built libraries, drop zones, crafting stations, bunk beds, and installed an iconic family heirloom on a wall… the list goes on. The best part about working with Jim is how he connects with our clients on a personal level - he is built to build things for people who are building a meaningful life.

Next time you come to visit us, look up! Jim was in charge of our exterior signage and selecting the fancy steel that it is made out of. And if you want to visit us while he is here, Lumbering Behemoth will be having a pop up on the 12th and 13th of October. Also, check out his insta @lumbering_behemoth

First, what the hell is a Lumbering Behemoth?

Naming things is hard. In my mid-30s, I decided I was going to train to run a 5k. At 6'5" and 240, I'm not exactly a natural-born runner. In fact, my prior running policy had a strict limit of "only when chased." Early on in the training process, it occurred to me how I must look, this big, oafy guy, stumbling and wheezing my way through 3 miles. In my head, I heard myself say, "You've got to look like some kind of lumbering behemoth." 

So I guess it started out a little silly, but it also relates to my work. So much of what we "build" these days is a little diaphanous and ephemeral. I don't understand how phone apps are built. I'm absolutely befuddled by block chain. So many blips and bloops. I don't know how to build with those. But I can build a dining table out of wood and steel. It's going to be heavy, and moving it into your house might make you sweat. No drone delivery available. You might stub your toe on it. But it isn't going to crash or get hacked or become immediately obsolete. It will comfortably and beautifully provide an environment for family dinners, study sessions with your kids, Thanksgiving feasts, romantic dinners (whenever possible, I make my tables suitable for dancing on, should your romantic dinner take that kind of a turn.) There's also a good chance that your great-grandchild will end up with it, telling stories about you while they feed their kid breakfast.

This is not light-speed technology. Big, slow, solid work. Lumbering Behemoth.

Glad we got that out of the way. Tell us your story: when and why. 

I spent a few years after college working construction with my dad. I think that's a pretty standard career move for those who graduate with a degree in English. My dad is a pretty amazing guy. He is a really effective critical thinker and solver of problems. One of those rare people that can do anything. He is not at all a micro-manager on the job site, but he has very high standards. If my work didn't meet those standards, we would work through what the problem was, and then I would undo what was unacceptable and fix it. There were probably a few frustrating days in there for me, but it was really an effective way to learn not only the basics and best practices of the trade, but also a very "real world" kind of confidence. It taught me that I can do things that I don't know how to do yet.

When I ultimately decided to earn my secondary teaching certificate, I wanted to bring that same kind of creative critical thinking into the high school classroom. I didn't enjoy high school as a student, so I wanted to create a learning environment that was more relevant and engaging for students. There was a lot of trial and error, but I was given a lot of latitude by my administration, and I think there were a lot of successes. Teaching, however, is a very taxing gig, especially when you are trying to reinvent the wheel. I was working all the time with no tangible evidence of my efforts. I wasn't even sure if I was doing the thing effectively. With education, you usually don't get that until a few years later, when students start sending you messages of appreciation. (Thankfully, a few have!)

So, I started hanging out in my uncle's workshop in the old Brown Shoe Factory in Sullivan, IL, just experimenting with materials and seeing what would happen. I really didn't know anything about woodworking or furniture building; I was just using my construction skills and applying them to smaller projects. I ended up making a few interesting pieces and selling them, and I was hooked. After a couple more years - 7 years total - I left teaching and started this business. That was in 2011.

The last 7 years have been a process of constant learning, growth, and revision. I've learned a lot about woodworking and design, particularly that there is much, much more to learn. I'm continuing to work on expanding my knowledge base and developing my skill set.  I think that the work has become more refined and more purposeful, and I hope that I'm starting to develop an identifiable aesthetic without becoming predictable. Fingers crossed!

What importance do you place on connecting with your customers/clients?

All of the the importance. It took me a long time to get comfortable with the idea that what I do is an art form. I always thought of art as something on a bit of a higher shelf than what I do. Art is a form of communication. It's something that triggers an emotion, catalyzes a tremor in one's worldview, challenges perspectives. I thought of my work more as a place to put your coffee cup or magazine. But the fact is that I invest a lot of emotional energy in this work. Uncovering a hand-fabricated steel tool base in a pile of scrap metal or revealing chatoyance in a piece of rough-sawn walnut are great joys for me. Snags in a design can keep me awake at night. The drive to see a piece finished can push me to stay in the shop and work well beyond what my body wants. I'm not manufacturing widgets, here; I have a personal connection to these pieces. My quality control process boils down to one question: "Do you want to keep this?" If the answer is yes, then it's ok to let it out into the world. Built-in struggle, right there.

So it is really, really important to me that my clients fall in love with the work. I've had the great fortune to watch this happen a number of times. They say things like, "I never would have thought of doing this," they want to know about the history of the material, they dream out loud - starry-eyed - about where they would locate the piece in their home and how they would use it. That's a pretty magical form of communication. I put emotion in; they get emotion out. That's art, I think. Plus, I'm also providing a good place to put their coffee cup or magazine.

Of course, the importance of that connection multiplies when I am working on a custom piece for a client. The collaborative nature of that process makes it at once more difficult and critical. I always want to design and create work that has meaning and function for my clients - I want it to become part of their homes and part of their lives and stories - but I don't want to build anything that I don't believe in; it has to be part of my story, too. Essentially, we're talking about an intense emotional and financial collaboration between people who start out as complete strangers. It's not an easy process, but it is one of the best parts of my job. 

What does 'shop local' mean to you? Alternatively, what impact does sourcing local materials have on your business and how it impacts your products.

I think the above answer speaks a lot to this question. As a maker, I want to know my clients, and I want to know that my work is serving them well. As a consumer, I want something similar. I want to know the people whose businesses I am buying from, and I want to believe in what they are doing. You used to be able to get that by walking up to your small-town business district and buying your shoes from the folks who had been selling shoes for 40 years. Growing up as a "gen x" kid, though, I witnessed a pretty intense wave of homogenization of our communities, especially small ones like the one I grew up in. Fast food chains and big box stores have stripped a great deal of local character out of those places. Thankfully, the internet has given us the opportunity to create a community out of the scattered (and, thankfully, increasing number of) businesses who are small, dedicated, and passionate about what they do. 

Quick example: I have become a bit obsessed with small, American companies that are making blue jeans. I think I follow 4 or 5 of them on Instagram. I'm talking really small. They range in size from maybe 5 or 6 people making a line of a few products, right down to one guy with a few machines who makes one pair of jeans at a time, custom-order. These companies are not local to me. Ohio, California, Texas, etc. But I know from their posts that these folks are passionate about what they do. In some cases, I've seen photos of their families and of their hobbies. I know that some of them work a different job through the summer so they can spend the winter doing the work they love. I've read about the struggles they have as business owners. I've had conversations with them. These are the kinds of businesses I want to support. They aren't local to me in a geographical sense, but they are definitely local. 

What is your favorite goodie here at The Hop?

I've never had anything at Hopscotch that wasn't amazing. I think my favorite was some shortbread I had once. Brown Butter, maybe? So good. But my very favorite thing about Hopscotch is that, when I come in for cold brew, the barista knows that I want it full-strength. That's local service, right there! (And I live 90 minutes away!)