“In my area, there are a lot of old industrial pallets. I like to tear those apart and put them back together.”
F+ Gallery owner Micah Kersh is sitting in his studio, talking about Kersh Modern, the upcycled furniture company he started in 2014. “My father is a woodworker, so I’ve been around it my whole life,” he says, “but I never really got it until a year ago.”
What he “got” is the intense, Zen joy of designing and building handmade furniture: the wonder of time passing as one picks boards and removes nails for reuse; the planing, sanding and staining wood; and getting lost in the process of manual labor. Kersh finds wood supplies in the street, during visits to lumber yards such as local reclaimed-wood dealer Austin Hardwoods—”I’m hoping to pull a lot of 100-year-old wood that was ripped out of an old building in Santa Ana”—or on trips to Big Bear. “If I see something interesting,” he says, “I will throw it in the truck.”
It’s a decidedly different career path from the several he has pursued over the years: A college degree in communications and digital technology earned at Vanguard University; co-producer of an independent film; internship with a radio station that led to a brief gig as a DJ; leader of a training program for BMW sales people; business consultation; a gig with Hurley, working with their art department and creative team. All of it left him less than happy. “I feel like life is a struggle, anyway. It just depends on how you want to struggle,” Kersh says. “I’m constantly getting turned on by new things, chasing the next butterfly.”
The results of his present pursuit are one of a kind, no two pieces exactly the same; they’re collector’s items for people that also have a utilitarian purpose, but they’re not for everyone. His coffee and conference tables, benches, and seats—distressed, rough-hewn, with knotholes, marks and stamps from previous use still visible—have personalities, an anomaly for people used to the smooth veneer of Swedish furniture.
“Reclaimed wood has a story to tell. You can distress something, fake it, but the real thing has its own history,” says Kersh. “It’s been used and abused. It’s like the scars on a person’s body.”
He knew he was onto something when his first table sold immediately after he finished it, snapped up by a friend who fell in love at first sight. After about 30 more “art projects,” as Kersh calls them, people now contact him, commissioning pieces after seeing his work on social media or getting a recommendation from previous clients.
As an already-accomplished painter and curator, is it difficult for Kersh to give up control when he’s creating on commission? “It’s very different from the artistic control of personal art, where you can do whatever you want and it doesn’t matter if someone likes it,” he says. “This is more social and interactive. Furniture needs to function for the people who buy it. I get joy out of making people happy, when it meets their expectations.”
Kersh is looking to move the company up the next rung of the business-model ladder, choosing a popular piece or two, replicating them in quantity, stocking and selling them, while also pursuing the custom work he loves. He’s looking for investors, people whom he jells with, who are simpatico to his mission. “Of course I’d love it if someone gave me a monthly stipend, paid my bills and let me do whatever I wanted,” he says, “but until that happens . . .”
Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.