Furniture makers build their business

Ben Olson (left) and Rob McGowan are expanding their custom furniture business. Photos by Katherine Blunt.

Ben Olson (left) and Rob McGowan are expanding their custom furniture business. Photos by Katherine Blunt.

Two self-taught craftsmen are carving out new business for their furniture design company.

Rob McGowan and Ben Olson, co-founders of Denver-based Fin Art Co., are furnishing Bar Fausto, a restaurant set to open this summer in RiNo, in exchange for an ownership stake in the venture. And they recently launched a furniture line to sell alongside the custom work they complete for restaurants and homes in the area.

“We’ve always said, ‘Let’s just see how far we can take this thing,’ and now we’re here, so why not push a little harder?” Olson said. “We could be comfortable with just custom furniture, but it’s mentally more fun to have another challenge.”

So far Fin Art has done design work and built custom furniture for a number of local restaurants, including Sputnik, Linger and Old Major, as well as residential clients.

Bar Fausto, now under construction at 3126 Larimer St., is the first restaurant Fin Art has designed for an ownership stake instead of cash. Olson and McGowan will design and build almost all of its interior, including chairs, lighting and the bar.

They declined to reveal their ownership share, but they’re staking their profit on the restaurant’s success.

“It’s a fantastic deal,” McGowan said. “The cash flow will help us lock down other big projects.”

Fin Art has started producing premade furniture in a new line.

Fin Art has started producing premade furniture in a new line.

The pair is hoping that Fin Art One, their newly launched collection of tables, chairs, barstools and credenzas, will boost revenue and allow them to nail down more custom deals.

“Hopefully with the (furniture) line, we can grow more and have a few more guys who can help us make those things,” Olson said. “If we can get to the point where we are a little bit less necessary in the shop, we can continue to tackle new designs with new clients.”

Fin Art One is the brand’s first foray into selling predesigned pieces. The furniture, available to order through the company’s website, includes cafe chairs for $250, end tables for $850 and wood credenzas priced at $2,400.

Fin Art hasn’t sold any pieces since the line launched June 1, but the products are based on custom designs that have sold well in the past, Olson said.  The collection is meant to provide options for those who might not have the time or inclination to purchase custom work.

“With the custom thing, if you want a dining table, we have to go back and forth,” McGowan said. “We will continue to do that, but we wanted this line to be a little more approachable. It’s click, buy and ship.”

When Olson and McGowan, both 31, graduated from CU Boulder, neither anticipated their designs would seat and serve hundreds of Denver diners. Olson majored in communications, and McGowan’s degree is in history.

They started experimenting with reclaimed wood and unusual scraps while working as bartenders after college and ended up building a client base of restaurants.

“Sputnik gave us the confidence to do bigger things, and Linger gave other people confidence in us,” McGowan said.

The two quit their bartending jobs three years ago when the business began breaking even. They now employ three others at a warehouse at 925 W. First Ave. full of lumber and salvage materials. Walnut is their favorite type of wood to work with.

Last year, Fin Art turned a profit for the first time. But pricing remains a challenge because the cost of finding and repurposing offbeat materials is difficult to anticipate in advance of the work, McGowan said.

“How do you price a 13-foot airplane wing conference table?” McGowan said. “The stuff we’re doing, we’re just making up; there’s no relative comparison.”

Fin Art isn’t bound to its past designs. The owners said future projects might include less reclaimed wood and more refined materials. They’re now designing pieces for Dos Santos, a Mexican restaurant set to open at 1475 E. 17th Ave. later this summer.

“We are going a little crazy on the whole thing,” Olson said. “It has some reclaimed (parts), but it’s refined and super slick.”

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5 years ago

Not too mention, Ben and Rob are the coolest and kindest people you’ll meet.