A bookcase is usually the piece of furniture that people reserve to display the items they are proud of: diplomas, trophies, vacation pictures and even books. The shelves of a bookcase provide a place for almost anything and everything.
For the students of Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, located on 5212 Pulaski Ave. in Germantown, the bookcase itself is their trophy. Why? Because they spent seven weeks making it, learning how to use the machinery to cut down the wood and piece it together. Suddenly, furniture that is typically reserved for giving a home feel and style has its own story to tell.
Colleen Daniels, a former student of the Philadelphia Furniture Workshop, said she remembers walking into the first day of class feeling rather uneasy and uncertain. But over time that all went away, as she became more acquainted with the materials and machinery thanks to the help of Alan Turner and Mario Rodriguez, the founders and instructors of the workshop.
“To come out of a class and bring something home that I personally made and had difficulties with, fixing my mistakes, and learning from them, is really a great feeling,” Daniels said.
Turner and Rodriguez established Philadelphia Furniture Workshop in the spring of 2005. Turner was a lawyer, teaching basic woodworking classes at an adult night-school program. Rodriguez was a former professor in the Restoration Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.
At the time, the department was being phased out, and Rodriguez was soon in need of a job. Turner had always hoped to find a building equipped with power tools and quality workbenches, and therefore, creating the Workshop was the perfect opportunity for a collaboration. The two complement each other, Rodriguez being the right brain guy working on design and Turner the left brain handling all the business and technical aspects of the school.
“We are really proud of Philadelphia Furniture Workshop. We built this business primarily in a recession and it’s supporting two families,” Turner said.
The mission of the school is simple. Having a roster of people varying in age and skill levels, the school aims to assist its students with personal development.
“We like to see students develop a self-critical eye to where they will no longer accept mediocrity in their own work. Where they push the bar higher for themselves and then achieve that,” Turner said.
This is the exact feeling that was evoked in former student Daniels once she left the workshop with her masterpiece.
“By the time you get to the end, it’s easy to forget where you’ve come from but actually being able to look back and say, these are the cuts I had made and this is the order in which it all got put together. You know, I made every part of this [and] that’s a great feeling,” Daniels said.