An artist’s passion for architecture transforms metal into vintage-style furniture
January 2013 - From the gothic architecture of Paris to the chic skyscrapers in New York City, classic skylines inspire designer Greg Hankerson, owner of Vintage Industrial, Phoenix, to create his unique, built-to-order furniture.
“Most of my inspiration comes from architecture—old architecture from bridges,” says Hankerson. “A lot of stuff in Europe. I look at vintage pieces in Europe and all over the world.” And the inspiration doesn’t stop at the design of a building, Hankerson also focuses on “the way engineers make bridges and the trusses and things like that” to create prominent furniture heavily influenced by the French Industrial style.
Hankerson’s furniture building started in 2009 when his wife needed a patio table. “I didn’t want to buy something that was just going to fall apart in a year,” he says, “and I missed working with my hands, so I just grabbed a bunch of scrap material I had in the garage and made a table.”
The patio table was a success, and it got him thinking about future projects. “I kind of have an obsessive personality,” he says. “I didn’t like the table, but [my wife] liked it, so I had to make a better one. I made a better one, and that was neat, but it was still missing something. I had a better idea. That’s kind of how I go.” Hankerson says he’s never completely satisfied, which drives him to create even more intricate pieces. “I may love it for a week or a day or an hour, and then I need to make something better or new to keep my interest, otherwise I will just go crazy.”
Although mostly self taught, Hankerson credits a friend with his welding beginnings. “My friend had some welding experience, and I’d always wanted to work with metals, so I got a welder for Christmas. He gave me a five-minute lesson, and we built a welding cart together. That was pretty much the only lesson I ever got.” Hankerson learned how to weld from the Internet, combing websites and asking questions on forums. “I did a lot of research,” he says.
With a recent expansion, Vintage Industrial now has 20,000 square feet of space. “We are not utilizing it all right now,” Hankerson says. 6,000 square feet is dedicated to fabrication, 2,000 to 3,000 square feet for a workshop and about 1,000 square feet for shipping and packaging. “We are trying to expand our office, and we want to open up a showroom,” he says. With 10,000 square feet of unused space, Hankerson hopes to create appointment-only showrooms within the next year.
He also hopes to upgrade equipment. “We have Hobart welders, they are kind of a hobby welder, but we don’t do that much welding as compared to most shops.” His team focuses on cutting, slitting, drilling and punching, with welding taking up about 5 percent of the day. “We have one ironworker, which we probably want to upgrade, and a band saw to do most of our cutting. Also, we just got a plasma CNC machine, which is changing everything right now for us.” With a new CAD program, the company has been able to design furniture and see it before the team constructs it. “We are really moving to get our drawings done so we can have them all cut out and be able to reference them later when we have similar orders.”
Making a name
Hankerson and his team of 17 mostly work with angle iron and mild steel. “I like structural steel,” he says. “I’m not really sure why I like it. [Angle iron] is just a simple, cheap structural piece you can use to make just about anything.” From coffee tables to TV stands, his structural furniture rings true to what inspires him. “I made a trip to New York, and that was amazing. There is so much inspiration there. I came back with a ton of ideas. And hopefully I will be going to France in April,” he says, a trip that Hankerson believes will prove fruitful for inspiration.
Vintage Industrial currently has about 40 projects. “We’ve got a really good team,” he says. “Unfortunately I don’t get to build much anymore, but I’m getting to where I can start designing again, which is my favorite part. I would prefer to design and have my guys make it. We’ve got an awesome team of welders who are certified, and their welds put mine to shame.”
With business steadily increasing and a new, spacious workspace, a lot of positive changes have occurred for the company during the past year. From Guy Fieri’s New York City restaurant, Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar, to Alec Baldwin’s apartment, Vintage Industrial’s furniture is making a name for itself. “It’s been quite a ride and I’ve spent more time dealing with business, trademark infringement and lawyers. I would much rather be in my backyard just welding, but I enjoy this too,” he continues. “I just have to hand off a lot of it to other people that are in charge of the employees so that they can deal with the stuff I don’t want to do and I can do what I love.” MM