Front and Center: 1819 Design Lab
Growing up, Robert Sevilla Naudon pictured himself as a professional photographer.
Bart Templeman envisioned a career teaching philosophy.
Things rarely turn out exactly as one expects.
That’s why Sevilla and Templeman – the team behind 1819 Design Lab – don’t encourage clients to spend much time explaining how they want their custom furniture, lighting, railing or door to look.
“I’ll ask them to describe how they want it to feel,” says Sevilla, “and suggest they leave the aesthetics to me.”
Templeman concurs. “Most people don’t have much confidence when it comes to artistic taste, and the few who do sometimes have way too much.”
Operating out of a repurposed carriage house in Browne’s Addition, designer Sevilla and shop manager Templeman are building a reputation for unique furnishings intended to last for generations.
Perhaps that explains why a Sandpoint couple commissioned a throne.
During a recent interview, the artists discussed how their peripatetic paths converged at 1819 W. Pacific Ave., and what lies ahead.
S-R: Where did you grow up?
Sevilla: In Los Angeles.
Templeman: Coeur d’Alene.
S-R: What were you interested in back then?
Sevilla: I thought I was going to be a photographer, but an internship cured me of that. I graduated from high school at 17 and didn’t want to wash dishes, so I started flipping through the yellow pages, looking for something creative, and discovered a place that made Rose Parade floats. I was hired by the art department and warned not to learn how to weld, or I’d get switched to the welding department. But in the end, that’s what I did.
S-R: How about you, Bart?
Templeman: During high school I was really into art, music and literature. In college I majored in philosophy, thinking I wanted to teach it.
S-R: Did you have other careers before focusing on woodworking?
Templeman: Quite a few – computer repair, lumber wholesaling. I had my own hardwood flooring company, and was a general contractor for years. Most of what I learned about woodworking was self-taught.
S-R: Robert, what led you to starting 1819 Design Lab?
Sevilla: After making parade floats and props for Hollywood, I attended art school, then made animated films for about 12 years. But when the process became more digitalized and less hands-on, I lost interest. That’s when I decided to move up here, close to my wife’s family, and try doing my own thing.
S-R: Were you successful from the start?
Sevilla: Everyone told me I couldn’t make a living in Spokane – that I’d have to find clients elsewhere. I had a five-year plan, but within a year was doing creative work almost full time. Plenty of people here appreciate what we do.
S-R: How about you, Bart? Was your transition fairly smooth?
Templeman: I switched not long before meeting Robert. We hooked up in the dregs of winter, so we spent a couple of months building our shop. Since then, though, we’ve never looked back.
S-R: How do you market your business?
Templeman: We don’t. But between the two of us we know a lot of people in the community, and clients find us through word of mouth.
S-R: What furnishings are your bread and butter?
Templeman: We do a lot of dining tables, which sell for $2,000 to $8,000. People’s buying habits are starting to change. They see things from IKEA that are beautifully designed, but crumble if you try to move them. We make pieces to pass down from family member to family member. The only way to get rid of them is to sell them or burn them.
S-R: Who are your clients?
Templeman: Mostly homeowners, or interior designers who find something online and tell their customers they can have it made locally to fit their exact needs. A lot of times people find something cool, but it’s too long, too short, too black, too brown.
S-R: How about unusual requests?
Sevilla: One client had us make a portable table with a burner and wine-bottle holders, along with 1½-inch-thick walnut plates. It was for his pontoon boat. The whole thing had to assemble and disassemble without tools, and fit in a storage bag.
S-R: Anything exotic in the works?
Sevilla: A Sandpoint couple asked us to build them a throne. They said, “Think ‘Game of Thrones.’ ” My idea is a two-person throne with a big fan-shaped backrest, because who’d want to sit on a throne by themselves?
Templeman: Hold it! I’d like my own throne, with the entire court right in front of me (laugh).
S-R: Robert, what have you learned about wood since collaborating with Bart?
Sevilla: I used to just chop wood and shape it. I’ve learned you have to love wood to make it look good.
S-R: Bart, what have you learned about metal?
Templeman: That it’s so forgiving. If you blow a piece off, you can reattach it, grind it, and it’s like it never happened. Wood doesn’t give you that opportunity.
S-R: Does anyone else locally do what you two do?
Sevilla: Not full time.
Templeman: And most of what they create is stuff they then try to sell. We rarely create a piece to sell. People come to us and say, “Can you make this for us?”
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Templeman: I love everything about it – the problem-solving, putting in the work and seeing the finished piece. What’s so fun is that, with any given project, there’re always several things I don’t know how to do. Having to think my way through it is probably the best way in the world to pass time.
Sevilla: I really like working with clients – having someone ask me to interpret what they want – and then working with other artists to realize that vision. When we interview potential employees, we give them sort of a passion test to make sure they’re not just doing this for the money.
S-R: Speaking of which, is this business lucrative?
Sevilla: This is my best year ever.
S-R: Is there anything you don’t like about your job?
Sevilla: I don’t like the dirt (laugh). That’s one of the things that got me out of building parade floats. My co-workers made fun of me for using a respirator when I was working on two-part cyanide carving foam. Now I wear examination gloves whenever I can, and a positive-flow helmet when I’m grinding metal.
S-R: How do you describe what you do?
Templeman: The word I’ve come up with is “maker.” I’m not a fabricator. I’m not a wood guy. I just make stuff.
Sevilla: And I don’t think of myself as a “metal guy,” because there are third-generation metal guys in Spokane who can kick my ass at that game. I’ve taken a different approach, because there’s no way they can keep up with me artistically.
S-R: What’s ahead for 1819 Design Lab?
Sevilla: If we think like businessmen, then sticking mostly to making tables is the smart way to go. But we love doing custom designs. The key is finding a balance – making money on tables so we can keep doing a few really cool projects each year.
S-R: Where can people see your work?
Sevilla: We’ve just arranged to show pieces in Dania (319 W. Riverside Ave.).
S-R: How do you relax?
Sevilla: By sketching. My job is also my hobby.
Templeman: That’s pretty much the same for me. I’ll come down here on a Saturday or Sunday when no one’s around and just tinker. That puts me in a great spirit.
This interview was edited and condensed.
Spokane freelance writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached via email at email@example.com.