Between surfing, skateboarding, and beach days with his wife and toddler daughter, Sean Woolsey is sketching, measuring, or carving wood like a madman, happily covered in shavings. Other days find him shipping his subtly hip furnishings to fans across the globe. Sean Woolsey Studio’s quality furniture is made by hand in Costa Mesa (or very nearby). “Designed to last longer than a lifetime,” as Woolsey likes to say, each piece is built to order by this SoCal designer and craftsman,.
Woolsey spent his childhood tearing apart things to see how they were made, a habit he still enjoys. His father’s influence as an artist and photographer led the two to share a studio for several years until the younger Woolsey secured his own in 2011. Since then, trend-seekers from GQ to Men’s Journal to CoolHunting.com have spread the word. They all recognize something unique in Woolsey’s approach, from the bad-boy CEO teak-and-maple pingpong paddles to the angled legs on his writing desk that resemble a racehorse crossing the line.
For those who’ve strolled around stores and thumbed through catalogs bemoaning, “I like this piece, if only …,” Woolsey’s ability to customize may appease. Select your wood, frame color, upholstery, or leather. Request custom measurements to fit your space. You can even provide your own material and let Woolsey have his way with it.
His newest pieces include an outdoor pingpong table, a steel-frame lounge chair with Sunbrella fabric options, and the midcentury-compatible Dreamer’s Chair in American black walnut or solid Burmese teak. Fresh items drop almost monthly; watch for a pool table and bed frame in the coming season.
We sat down with Woolsey to talk about what’s up his made-in-America sleeve.
What brought you to this place in
I have always been fueled by creating things with my hands. I grew up building skate ramps, surfing, starting my own clothing brand, and making artwork. My dad made stained-glass artwork for a living and has been a large inspiration for me. I got started in furniture about six years ago whenI wanted to make a few pieces for my wife. It has slowly evolved into what it is today. I feel very fortunate and blessed to be creative and make things that I want to make every day.
What led you to believe there was a niche market for California-made designer furnishings?
You know, I never planned on becoming a furniture designer for a business. Never had a business plan. I think people really care about well-made things right now, in opposition to the fast-paced, throwaway culture that surrounds us. There are a lot of people who really care about how something is made, where it is made, and who made it.
Woolsey’s collections range from the tubular steel-frame Campbell Chair with nylon strapping and leather belts supporting memory foam cushions to a shuffleboard table with felt-lined gutters and a rock maple top.
I never planned on becoming a furniture designer … I grew up building skate ramps, surfing, starting my own clothing brand … It has slowly evolved into what it is today.
Where do you source your materials?
We use mainly American hardwoods like oak, maple, walnut, and cherry. We get them from various suppliers in the U.S. We make everything within a 35-mile radius of our shop in Costa Mesa. We have welders, powder coaters, craftsmen, and upholsterers all really close to us, and many of them have become friends.
Who is your market for a high-end pingpong table and the like?
It ranges a lot, from families to companies. We ship about 80 percent of our work out of state, and about 5 percent leaves the country. Right now, we are making a table for a client who lives in the penthouse of the tallest building in Dubai, the Burj Khalifa.
When you were in grade school you wanted to be …?
I wanted to be a firefighter like my grandpa.
And in high school?
I wanted to be a pro surfer.
What furniture do you like that you don’t make?
I like a lot of my friends’: Chris Earl, Stephen Kenn, Phloem Studio, and Truck Furniture.
What are you trying to say with your furnishings?
Buy less, buy better, and have fun while doing it.
Where will you go next?
I want to keep making furniture by hand here in California and grow the business here. Growing our line, making things better, and slowly growing our team and distribution.
Can’t say we’re not curious about the farm animals in your photos …
Ha! I just love animals and thought it would be really fun to use them in some shots. We work with a family-owned farm about an hour north of our workshop. We’ve become friends with the owners, as we have done a few shoots with them. They do rentals for movies, parties, etc. They are sweet, and they deliver the animals directly to our studio.