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Maker Interview: Ben of Homemade Modern

Jenn: Hi I’m Jenn from House One and I’m here with Ben from Homemade Modern—Thank you so much for being here.

Ben: Happy to be here.

Jenn: Ben produces ultra-modern amazing projects on Homemade Modern. I thought we could ask you a little bit about what people can expect to see on Homemade Modern, and how you got started.

Ben: Well my background is in architecture. I was designing these really cool houses, but with custom architecture, you tend to work in the millions of dollars kind of budgets. I wanted to make something that was just a little bit more accessible. I grew up in a relatively low-income family, and I wanted to figure out a way that I could take some of the cool design ideas I was having and apply them at a more entry level. So I started Homemade Modern to share modern simple DIY design ideas.

What are you best known for?

Ben: I think early on I was best known for my concrete projects. I picked concrete as material because it’s actually really inexpensive if you do it yourself. You can get a bag of concrete—an 80-pound bag—for about five bucks. There’s not too many wood products that you can get for that price point.  But, if you take the time to build the molds yourself, you can make things that feel as smooth as stone and actually look really high-end. So I would say, early on, it was a lot of the DIY concrete projects.

Where do you find inspiration?

Ben: What’s interesting is that even though I focus on video—video is the primary type of content I produce—my inspiration was more from the golden age of design blogs. Remember when Apartment Therapy was blowing up, and Remodelista…kind of before Pinterest came over and did all its “Pinterest stuff”? This is even before I was using Instagram a lot. I was looking at the really cool style blogs but I was finding that I don’t really like reading step-by-step instructions and scrolling all the way down—I want to see more video. So I was trying to take what I was seeing both from an affordable architecture standpoint, and on style blogs, and trying to make videos that gave really succinct instructions for how to make them, not just showing; hey, I’m a designer and I can make a room look cool.

Jenn: I think that something that’s so inspiring, especially to the audience of House One, because we’re taking instruction and marrying it with a style that is relevant to what people are using in the design world today. I think that you don’t see it very often, so it’s something that’s definitely set Homemade Modern apart in so many ways for a long time.

Ben: Yeah, I always feel that style is the destination, but instruction is the road map of how to get there. It’s so frustrating for people when they see this great image and they’re like; “I don’t know where I get that, I don’t know how I make that, I don’t know what color paint that is.” We need it reverse engineered so that when we get excited about a design, we can actually get it for ourselves.

What’s your Favorite Project?

Ben: The things I like personally are never my most popular projects. With a lot of my friends that are chefs, the food that they like to prepare isn’t their best seller. I think their audiences’ taste can be a little more bland, but I think that’s how it’s supposed to be. I like experimenting with really extreme things that I like versus finding out what’s more of a crowd-pleaser. But for me, one of the projects I’m most proud of is of a table I made out of one sheet of plywood. You only need a circular saw, a drill, and an orbital sander to make it. It cost about fifty to sixty dollars to make, and it is a really strong, cool, modern-looking table.

What video styles or makers inspire you?

Ben: Video style is such an interesting things because we all learn so differently. One of my good friends is Chris Salomone who runs Four Eyes Furniture. His videos are beautifully shot—they’re long, they’re very instructive, and have a little story involved,—but I find myself getting a little bit restless. Even though I love his work, and the end result is so beautiful, I tend to want to see things really fast, consume it, maybe get only about 60-70% of the actual information, and then just go give it a shot myself, makes some mistake, and then and then fix it later. Where as other people in my family, especially my younger sister who works with me, she likes to see really deliberate instructions, and follow it meticulously. It’s always easiest a create for people who think most similarly to you, but it’s also really good be mindful that there are so many different ways that people absorb information.

Jenn: I think that’s very true, and I think that having styles that you try out is always important to see what resonates with your audience and what helps them understand how to create something.

Ben: Yeah, and it might be a platform thing. Sometimes a really short fast video on Instagram is just perfect. A video with more explanation on YouTube might make sense too.

What’s your best advice for new DIY’ers?

Ben: I think it’s to pick an aesthetic that’s forgiving. DIY is so much about expectations—cooking is a great example I always use to explain this. Don’t try to make a souffle the first time you have eight of your friends over for dinner. When it comes to DIY materials, if you’re doing your first woodworking project ever, maybe don’t buy that super expensive live-edge slab of walnut. Start with plywood because if you screw up, it’s not that big of a deal— just trim off a little bit more and it’s pretty consistent throughout the whole thing. Set yourself up with both your expectations and your material choices so that you’re going to be really encouraging to yourself with your first few project, and not discouraging.

Do you plan ahead or see where a project leads you?

Ben: I get asked a lot; “where do you come up with your ideas.” I always think of it as kind of a Hemingway-type situation. It’s not that he imagined all these incredible stories, is more that he lived an incredible life, and then was able to take things in it and apply them to things. For me, it’s much more about being visually open to finding really interesting textures, finding forms and proportions of furniture pieces that I really like, then letting that all sort of marinate and mix around my head. Then, all of a sudden, an idea will come like, “ah, I should make a media console that looks like this with this kind of door.”

Jenn: And pull from the inspiration that you find in other places?

Ben: Exactly.

Jenn: That’s very interesting. Well, thank you so much for speaking with us today. I really appreciate it. And if you want to see more of what Ben’s up, you can check him out on Homemade Modern.

Jenn Largesse
By Jenn Largesse
Jenn Largesse is the editor and creator of House One. As the daughter of a carpenter and an english teacher, she has been honing her love for woodworking and writing her entire life. After nearly a decade as a writer and producer for This Old House, she bought her first home in rural New England and launched her blog, Build Basic.

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