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Check Out Bevan Merrihew’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bevan Merrihew.

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
BARA Woodshaping & Design started in 2018 at the time when my wife, our newborn son, and I moved down to Orange County, CA from Eugene OR. I had been working for a high-end custom cabinet builder in the Willamette Valley for the previous five years and my wife and I knew that we wanted to start something of our own. With my skills as a carpenter and designer and her skills in photography, branding and office management, we decided to start our own woodworking business with the cash we made from selling our house in Oregon. Our idea was to build custom furniture but without a name or reputation, we weren’t able to charge what we need to in order to justify the risk. So we decided to take any random woodworking job we could get in order to get some money coming in a while also establishing our name and brand. So that’s what we did! My wife posted an ad on Craigslist with some photos of a few things I’d built and a phone number. To our surprise calls started trickling in. Jobs ranging from outdoor furniture, large exterior gates and planter boxes to dining room tables, credenzas, and cabinets for an RV remodel.

Eventually, our name started circulating Orange County and we started getting offered larger jobs. I even had the privilege of building and installing a modern floating staircase in a new home in Emerald Bay (Laguna Beach). In the midst of the miscellanies, we were approached by a local artist, James Verbicky. James was looking for a carpenter to build his cradled panels for his mixed media artwork. Funny enough, at the time I didn’t even know what an art panel was, but I told him that as long as it was made out of wood I could most likely build it. He gave me a shot and enjoyed my work; becoming a consistent client of ours. During this time, we were feeling the weight and exhaustion from taking assorted custom jobs. Physically, emotionally, and monetarily we were suffering. We found it obvious that we needed to find a niche. We noted a consistency in demand for James’ panels and wondered if there might be other artists with the same needs. After talking with him and a few other artists, it became clear that there was indeed a large need for high-quality custom panels in the art world. Thankfully my brother, Chad, had joined the BARA team for nine months and was able to help us transition our business from ‘anything and everything’ to exclusively serving artists. Chad, with is strengths being in business organization and networking — along with what my wife and I had already created — was able to quickly transform our business to something focused and viable. In early summer of 2020, we turned down all jobs not pertaining to art surfaces.

Our shop was reestablished and upgraded to make us efficient in panel production and just like that, we became a high-end custom panel company. It wasn’t long before orders were consistently coming in and we were receiving amazing feedback. The need went beyond California so we committed to serving artists all across the country. Nix and I have found such pleasure in entering the art world and have built some lasting and meaningful relationships with artists along the way. We depend on the feedback and critique of our clients to grow and get better and we have been so grateful for the support and enthusiasm our clients have shown us. We are constantly learning and always improving our panels and although it’s tempting to expand and “go big”, we are consciously and intentionally taking things slow and steady. We love the intimacy that a small family-run business provides and would never want to forfeit our relationships or the quality of our panels. So far, the combination of my sometimes obnoxious perfectionism and Nix’s quirky relatability has been a success; we are happy and so are our clients.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Owning a business is never a smooth road and there are challenges and surprises around every corner. The full list of struggles would be extensive and boring but to name a few…Shipping hasn’t been a breeze. We are thrilled to be able to serve artists all around the country but for the first year, it felt like we were holding our breath every time a package left our shop. We have had experiences that were mind-blowingly heart-crushing. Once, a forklift driver actually drove a forklift over one of our packages! Through trial and error, we’ve learned which companies we trust to deliver our packages safely and also how to fully customize our packaging to endure every type of abuse. During this process, we were able to reevaluate our shop efficiency. We now use scrap material to build our packaging which helps reduce our waste while also strengthening our packages. Even still, there are still times when the package arrives held together by only the plastic black straps we wrap around the outside. Needless to say, shipping still feels like a gamble. We have done all we can do on our end but you never know what kind of day a forklift driver may have had. But honestly, the hardest part has been trying to balance being a business owner and a parent. Nix and I have three boys under the age of four and they are very busy! We are constantly having to reorder our priorities to make sure our boys are getting the love and attention they need whilst also maintaining the care our customers require. We love serving both our boys and our artists but we have yet to find the perfect balance of both.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
We primarily build high-end custom panels for artists. An art panel is a surface made entirely out of wood created for art application; think of a canvas made of wood. Some of our standard panels include rectangles, squares, circles, triangles, hexagons, etc. We aren’t the only company to make these but there is a big difference between what you will find in your local art supply store and what you get from BARA. I started as a finish carpenter, building high-end cabinets and furniture and that’s all I knew before coming into panels. When making a panel, I build it the same way I would a table or a vanity. I use the highest quality materials and put in the same amount of care and attention to detail. Each panel is handled by me from start to finish and like I mentioned before, I ere on the obsessively particular side. I want our panels to be valued as art before the paint even touches the plywood. Every surface is finely sanded, including the backside. I build them to be dependable and lasting because some of our artists are selling their pieces for upwards of $80k… The panels that exist on the market today are typically built, start to finish, on machines and have lost the quality and care that comes from a human’s touch. At BARA, we are trying to find the balance between high-end machinery and the art of handmade. Most high production companies have killed the carpenter and we are trying to keep him breathing.

We are also a fully custom shop which gives our artists the freedom to get creative. My wife and I are artists, as well, so we always enjoy when a client allows us to participate in their design.

Do you have recommendations for books, apps, blogs, etc?
The first to come to my mind is Ishitani furniture’s YouTube channel. Ishitani’s woodworking feels very intentional and sincere and I think anyone, carpenter or not, would enjoy watching him work. The videos are quiet and simple without any added music or production making it mesmerizing and above all inspiring. Plus, my kids love watching it too which allows for some peace and quiet which is hard to come by in our home. Spotify is HUGE in our home and my workshop. Sadly we have a large record collection that is collecting dust because Spotify has made it too easy to listen to good music when your hands are full; literally and figuratively. I’m typically listening to jazz, reggae, classical, the band Loud Harp…really anything that will help to slow me down and allow for more deliberate work.

Instagram has been the lifeblood of our business. Honestly, probably 98% of our clients have come from Instagram. To this day, it’s our only form of marketing. Thankfully my wife and partner is a photographer and a gifted writer so Instagram has come quite natural to her. We never had any social media before BARA and honestly had a bad taste in our mouth for it but we now see just how impactful it can be for a business. As long as we are wary of the rabbit holes…

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