Ben’s Automotive Decor (B.A.D.) specializes in modern furniture made from genuine car parts, creating truly unique works of automobile art.
Ben and Chloee Harvey are a young, successful couple living on the Central Coast of California. Years of training and experience as an Automotive Technician have given Ben the skill set and vision to create unique automotive furniture. With Chloee’s background in customer service and office management Ben’s Automotive Decor is a well oiled business machine. Here’s Part 1 of our exclusive interview with Ben.
What is automotive furniture and how popular is it?
Automotive furniture is artwork that is often functional, created with automotive parts. As a rule at Ben’s Automotive Decor, I like to design my automotive furniture using exclusively car parts. Whilst not being the easiest way to complete a project – using gas pipe or other materials can be quicker – I believe that automotive furniture is enhanced when only real automotive parts are used.
What inspired you to become an automotive artist?
Great question, when trying to pinpoint my inspiration for creating automotive art, I am convinced that it comes from a few places. I spent much of my childhood from a very young age tinkering with cars and engines at my family’s repair shop. Many of my childhood memories are of me sitting in the corner of the workshop taking apart scrap engines and thinking the parts were so cool or helping my grandfather re-organize a section of the parts department. I often relate to that time, when I am in my workshop stripping down scrap engines these days! Throughout my career as an automotive technician I have taken off and disposed of many car parts that pained me to throw away, because the design and shape of them is so beautiful and interesting. Watching the British Top Gear growing up, and seeing them sat around a V12 Jaguar engine block coffee table also inspired me that these parts can make some amazing furniture.
What is the most expensive piece of automotive furniture you ever sold?
To date, the most expensive piece I have sold is the Ferrari engine block coffee table for $4800, although I have received an order for another so I suppose it’s a tie for 1st! I try to keep pricing as attainable as possible because it means a lot to me that my artwork is out there being enjoyed.
What vehicles make the best-selling furniture pieces?
I have found that people love to own a piece of their favorite vehicle in art form. Vintage muscle car parts are very popular, as well as super cars.
What makes your automotive furniture unique?
Whilst I often reproduce some similar designs such as piston clocks, spark plug beer bottle openers and engine coffee tables – every single piece is unique. It’s amazing to think about the hard life that a piston has gone through, all of the wear and tear along with casting marks from when it was originally made, makes each piece different. Many of my designs are very different – I always have a host of new ideas to try. Some turn out just as I see them in my head and some sit in the ‘work in progress’ section for a long time until I figure out how to make the piece look right!
At what age did you get interested in this type of art?
I think at around age 7/8 I really started to appreciate the beauty and intricacy of automotive parts. It wasn’t until around the age of 21 that I really started seriously following through with building art projects.
How did you decide to become a fulltime artist and was that a difficult decision?
I decided to become a full time artist when it became evident that I would be unable to do B.A.D justice, whilst continuing my career as an automotive technician. It was not a difficult decision in that I really genuinely enjoy creating automotive art, and am very grateful that I get to be creative and make cool stuff. The biggest challenge in the decision was the uncertainty and pressures that can come with self-employment, but deep down I always knew that being a fulltime artist was what I wanted to do. Being able to do something I love every day makes it much easier to find solutions for challenges that come along the way.
Did you have a game changing artwork or event that made your art career a success?
I would say that the art piece that changed my career the most was the first piece I created. An Aston Martin V12 popped a connecting rod out the side of the block, which basically renders the main engine block unusable. The engine sat in the workshop of the high end repair shop I worked at. I had always wanted to build an engine block table and this was the perfect donor. It took me a long time to follow through with the build, and I learnt many lessons with it. This was career changing for me, because I was able to see the picture I had in my head become a reality. When other family and friends saw it, and also appreciated the beauty, I was hooked on exploring my creativity. I have that Aston Martin V12 engine coffee table in my home to this day!
What is the artwork you are most proud of?
Whilst I am proud of all my pieces, there is one design that does stand out in my head. A customer purchased a Porsche 911 engine block wine rack, and a NASCAR engine block coffee table for his personal car showroom. He asked if I had any connections that I could point him to as he wanted to create an automotive theme bathroom for the showroom. I ended up designing and building a transmission sink, completely with automotive parts. It came out amazing, the whole faucet, hot and cold on and off taps all made with engine parts looked incredible. It was a very challenging and intricate piece to create, many moving parts and internal plumbing – I have had a lot of good feedback from people that have seen it.
Are there a lot of automotive furniture makers out there and what is the competition like?
There are certainly other automotive furniture makers out there. Some have very different styles to my art, which of course I appreciate and am often very impressed with the skills and talent involved. There are also other automotive furniture makers that create art more similar to mine, but we still have differences in our styles. I really don’t view any of these other makers as competition, rather as fellow artists. Earlier we discussed inspiration for artwork, and I think that creativity is sparked by things that we see and appreciate. It’s like all the things that inspire us are put in a food blender, and our artwork is the delicious smoothie that comes out. With that in mind, I encourage and enjoy seeing others create cool things out of car parts, and when I hear that my work inspired someone else to go for it, that makes me really happy. I have plenty of work to keep me busy, and there are so many ideas and creations I have yet to get to, so I don’t feel that we are in competition with one another – we all help each other grow.
Are there different styles of automotive furniture and what is the history of this art movement?
In my line of products, in my head I separate them into two styles. One style of piece is the elegant, sharp, raw metal finish – perfectly clean metal that looks like you could eat off of it. The other finish shows the patina, the wear and tear, metal staining from being sat in oil for so long, or the rust from years on the road. Either finish is always sealed and lacquered so of course no finished product is ever ‘dirty’. I am sure that there has been automotive furniture ever since cars became mainstream! I’d like to think that way back in the early 1900s people would reuse the seat or engine parts of the old cars once they were no longer serviceable. The old wooden wheels are works of art in themselves. In more modern times, I know that for many years gearheads and car lovers who are hands-on with their repairs and maintenance like to keep old parts as good memories. It seems relatively recent however that this form of art is made available to custom order or buy.
Do you have a favorite piece of automotive furniture that you prefer to make?
I really enjoy making coffee tables. To see an engine start off as a big heavy, ugly, oily contraption and then take it all apart to see the beauty inside is wonderful. There’s nothing quite like the moment you put the thick glass down on the table and stand back – its really an incredible transformation.
What is the typical size of your automotive furniture and what is the largest piece you ever made?
The typical size is anywhere from a keychain, or beer opener – up to a coffee table or pub table – generally around 30/35 inches around. The largest piece was for the Daytona Hotel in Florida. It is a car themed hotel right opposite the famous Daytona International Speedway in Florida. I decked out the pool room for them, and built them a very large towel rack to go near the pool. It was a really fun build, a 4 shelf, very long rack all made out of car parts.
On average, how long does it take for you to create an artwork?
It really varies depending on what I am building. I’d like to think that some B.A.D. art is within most people’s reach – so obviously when I’m making small, inexpensive items I have to make sure they are not too time consuming. Many of the pieces involve a lot of soaking or drying time, so I am always working on multiple projects at once, some projects are in the works for months.
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