bove the old Brush Manufacturing Company in Brighton resides the woodshop of Hayes Shanesy: a lanky, soft-spoken guy who is the other half of the independent retail enterprise, the Brush Factory. Shanesy and business partner/longtime romantic partner Rosie Kovacs recently created a separate arm to their growing business endeavor, focused exclusively on Shanesy’s wooden handcrafted furniture: Brighton Exchange.
Since Kovacs makes clothes, bags and other soft goods under the Brush Factory title, the two felt that renaming Shanesy’s furniture and accessories brand would allow their audience to differentiate between the two respective products. It’s a simple yet philosophical change that can impact both buyers and the producer, and it is clear that Shanesy is an analytical thinker in his approach to his work.
What began in 2009 as a casual project for Shanesy has now blossomed into a full-time business endeavor. Having lived in Brighton for several years, Shanesy was looking for a garage to work on classic cars and vintage motorcycles when Fred Lane (a longtime Brighton advocate/property owner) approached the couple about the old Brush Manufacturing Company’s building. They employed existing storefront space and built entirely new architecture downstairs, but the fact that there was a working woodshop upstairs sealed the deal for Shanesy and Kovacs.They’ve since moved out of the bottom floor storefront but maintain the woodshop as an integral part of their business.
Shanesy — a third generation “shop rat” whose father and grandfather were both cabinetmakers by trade — was raised around antiques, Shaker furniture and George Nakashima’s iconic work at an early age, and their influence on his clean and classic design is apparent in his ability to allow the material to speak for itself. Despite his early exposure, though, Shanesy arrived at his current position almost accidentally.
A graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning’s Industrial Design program (an industry-driven program with a focus on plastic product manufacturing and mass production, according to Shanesy), he spent much of his time working in the transportation studio on campus. Even in the furniture/chair studio at school — much to his father’s dismay — Shanesy made a steel chair instead of a wooden one.
Although he has woodworking in his blood, “it wasn’t something that I conscientiously pursued,” Shanesy admits. “My interest grew for a long amount of time. The older I got, the more I realized it made sense to me and how much all these things that go into woodworking and design play into my interests.” And part of that interest involves constantly learning and challenging himself to tinker and create.
When The Brush Factory first began, Shanesy was working on restoring vintage motorcycles, but he explains, “my interest in that was a problem solving satisfaction: fixing things; figuring out how they work.” His mentor dad might be “phasing into retirement,” but the editor for Popular Woodworker Magazine still isn’t around all the time, and consequently Shanesy does a lot of experimenting.
“I’m going deep here but I spend a lot of time by myself just working on stuff, and there’s so much more besides just a hands-on task that you learn along the way about life — about who you are, just working on something that’s a ‘mindless task.’ It is very fulfilling spiritually,” Shanesy says. “Making stuff by hand imparts something that is you — even if you don’t intentionally do it. That is something that’s lost when you can just spit something out on a computer.”
Despite his suspicion of automated tools, Shanesy insists he’s not a craft purist, and that he would enjoy using a Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machine to robot route/laser cut wood — at the very least for prototyping — if he had one.
Both woodworking and vintage motors are dated technology and, according to Shanesy, “it’s a matter of just getting in there and doing it — just like anything. It’s a part of my personality, I guess. I don’t take a lot of risks as a businessperson, but I’m willing to get my hands dirty. I’m willing to try. You make mistakes — that’s how you learn.”
Schmoozing and networking with clients doesn’t come naturally for Shanesy, yet he knows that selling, marketing and getting your product out there require a kind of social savvy, and he’s working on it. “It’s amazing how much time has to be devoted to that,” he says. It’s apparent that the process of creation remains of primary importance to the craftsman.
“It’s a quest for dexterity and learning how your hands and mind work,” Shanesy says of his approach to his trade. “Years ago when there were apprenticeships, you worked your way up by working under someone and accumulating that experience hands on, hour after hour, year after year.”
And Shanesy believes the mark of the human hand is missing in most affordable design today.
“My absolute goal is to design and make things that the average person can afford and enjoy,” he says, noting that many in our day and age don’t seem to fully comprehend the correlation between time invested and money compensated.
Another small but significant change that Shanesy made recently was to reassess the company’s packing modes. Everything under the Brighton Exchange moniker is now flat-packed, and (although a few require minimal assembly), storing and shipping flat containers is much more space- and cost-efficient. Those of us who shop at Ikea might take this kind of flat packing for granted, but it was a minor design change that can make a major difference for a small company like Brighton Exchange.
The retail business may be a tough one, but Shanesy believes it’s charged with potential.
“Locally, the amount of small businesses and independent growth that the city has embraced — and funded — is incredible. And I can’t imagine it’s only Cincinnati,” Shanesy says.
“I think there will always be an interest in artifacts that have the human touch to them. It’s an ancient thing; that’s where emotion happens."
To shop BRIGHTON EXCHANGE, visit www.brighton-exchange.com