It’s probably not a coincidence that Andy Vasquez ended up on Lumber Street in Allentown.
The third-floor studio that now houses Andy Vaszquez Furniture – located in an old industrial building in the heart of Center City – is stacked with lumber that ranges from fine cherry and walnut planks to old pallets. The cherry and walnut will be used for thing such as tables, chairs and stools. The pallets will be recycled into register counters and merchandise stands for a friend who owns a skate shop.
In fact, it was his lifelong passion for skateboarding and connections in the field that got him started in business. As he studied the sport and learned more about it, he became interested in drawing and painting to emulate skateboard graphics.
“The things that have gotten the biggest response have been the things related to skateboarding,” says Vasquez, who has made retail furniture for stores in the Lehigh Valley and as far away as New York City.
A graduate of Notre Dame High School in Bethlehem Township, Vasquez became interested in woodworking while studying fine art at Kutztown University, where he earned degrees in Art Education and Furniture Design.
“I fell into woodworking and furniture while I was there,” he explains. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
After graduating in 2011, he spent six months Eindhoven in The Netherlands on a non-paid internship with designer Nacho Carbonell.
“It was amazing,” he says. “I loved it. I learned a lot from doing it, including a lot of unexpected lessons.
One of those lessons from Carbonell’s highly experimental and sculptural studio was the realization that he wanted to make simple, functional and interesting reclaimed furniture. Though he initially thought about creating and selling furniture that would be seen more as art or sculpture, again it was his experience in The Netherlands as well as his work with his skateboard friends that helped steer him in new directions.
“As an artist, you end up making a piece of furniture that people are afraid to use because it looks so much like sculpture,” says Vasquez, who recently completed two credenzas for professors at Kutztown. “Making things that people use switched my agenda.”
He opened his business two years ago and rented room at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center, which he says was invaluable. “I couldn’t have really started without that space,” he says. “I don’t have storage space or a garage or basement. The Allentown Economic Development Corp. gave me a great opportunity, letting me start with clean space and I could make what I wanted out of it.”
Anthony Durante, Program Manager for Bridgeworks, said Vasquez’s success is a great example of how the maker space can help create businesses and jobs.
“He started with in 200 square feet, eventually doubled that and now he is in his own space” Durante says. “Although Andy was never part of our incubation program, we are happy that we were able to give Andy an affordable place to get started and grow. His story is exactly why we created the maker space at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center.”
Vasquez says he expects his business to grow steadily and he is already moving into new areas, again following Carbonell’s example and experimenting with different types of furniture and materials. He has begun working with molded concrete for furniture footings and used other concrete moldings to create awards that were handed out by the Converse company at a skate competition in Tampa, Fla.
“A lot of it is just trying to show people what you can do,” he says. “For instance, now I am working on a stool. The credenzas helped me see a lot of design possibilities.
“I like any piece, any type of furniture that I can put my spin on.”