Q & A: ReadyMades New Advice Columnist, Amy Devers

Caitlin Thornton

GG10Amy Devers is a furniturdesigner, a home improvement expert, a TV personality, and moreover, a maker. And now, she’ll be dishing out advice to ReadyMakers in her new column, Hands On (see the first one in our October/November issue). We put Los Angeles-based Devers in the hot seat to pick her brains about her many, many experiences in the world of DIY.

What are you looking to accomplish with your new ReadyMade column?

I’m hoping to help ReadyMade readers with any DIY issue their brain might be chewing on—from how-to questions and design dilemmas, to efficiency issues and even relationship advice. (Examples: I love the design of this vintage clock radio, but it doesn’t work. Got any great repair or repurpose ideas? Or: My boyfriend and I always get into arguments when we work on house projects together. I love him but he can’t cut-in with a paintbrush to save his life.  Any tips for home-improvement that doesn’t end up in relationship-destruction?) And if it happens to be outside of my area of expertise, I will make it my mission to track down some valuable intel from someone who knows. Or I’ll just make something up and throw in some technical jargon so it sounds like I know what I’m talking about.

[Have queries of your own? Send them to articles@readymademag.com and we’ll put Amy on the case!]

Besides helping out ReadyMade readers, what else are you up to right now?

Let’s see, I’m hosting “Designer People“on Ovation, “Fix This Yard” on A&E, and have another TV project in development. I’m working with the American Hardwood Export Council to design and present DIY-themed educational seminars and workshops in various countries (just got back from one in Korea.)

In my design studio, I’m building some art pieces, some furniture pieces, and some prototypes for a forthcoming line. I’m collaborating with other artists and architects as part of Watts House Project, a very dear-to-my-heart non-profit, and I’m in the middle of revamping my website (but I’m procrastinating). I’m also faithfully watching Mad Men and seeing as many bands as I can fit into my schedule.

Whoa, you’re busy. Whats the passion driving all of this?

I get depressed when I’m not productive, so I stay busy to stay happy. Thank you, Universe, I love what I do! The passion behind my work stems from the satisfaction I get from imparting empowering knowledge to people who are hungry for it.

Back when I was in school, after I had struggled through the design and construction of my first few pieces of furniture, I remember something clicked and this kind of liberating confidence set in. I started to see things for all of their components and connections and the whole material world started to make a lot more sense to me.

Suddenly, I could comprehend my car as a machine. And I wasn’t concerned about the possibility of having to change a tire, even though I had never done it. I realized that if a pipe in my place sprang a leak, I could probably fix it—at least temporarily—until I could call a plumber or figure out how to fix it permanently, and before all my stuff got ruined.

I gained this understanding that if I wanted to, I could figure out how to fix, modify, create, or customize anything I wanted to, and therefore I could control my environment for both comfort and safety. When you consider that survival is a basic human instinct and shelter is necessary for survival, then the gravity of this realization starts to have some merit.

With shop class disappearing from public education and a cultural emphasis on intangible digital and knowledge work, there isn’t much opportunity for most people to get a handle on the handy arts. But through TV shows, I’ve had the opportunity to teach countless homeowners some of these basic skills. I’ve been there when the light bulb over their head turns on, and it is such an amazingly cool and rewarding thing to be a part of. Knowing it’s broadcast on TV just makes me feel like the information is reaching more people and that makes me even happier.

We’re convinced. How did you get your first TV break? And were you always so comfortable in front of the camera?

I was starting up my independent design/build studio and still doing some freelance contracting as a finish carpenter in 2003 when home improvement shows were blowing up. A casting agent friend of a client told me about a TV show that was looking for a female co-host. Actual know-how was the chief criteria over acting experience. I thought “What the hell, this could be a kick in the pants” (thinking I was just going to come home with a fun story about what it’s like to go to a Hollywood audition), packed up my rhinestone safety glasses (yes, I made them myself), and went for it.

I was not at all comfortable in front of the camera at first, but after a while I was able to relax into it and just be myself. Well, as “myself” as they would let me be. I still had to watch my mouth, of course. And, in the beginning, the network execs were super concerned that my credibility would be in-question because I’m female, so they insisted on a very conservative demeanor. “You know, just the facts, ma’am.” Thankfully, that’s not an issue anymore and I can have a lot more fun while the camera’s rolling.

Your bio says you’re “fluent in the manner of making things.” What makes you a ReadyMaker?

First and foremost, I make a mean Manhattan. Other than that, I mostly make furniture and accessories (I have a thing for lamps), but I’m also known to dabble in jewelry, clothes, bags…and while I haven’t made shoes yet, they’re next on the list.

I work with a lot of different materials (wood, metal, plastic, ceramic, cork, textiles, found objects, you name it) so I’ve built up a pretty good mental databank of their physical properties and methods of joining them, not to mention a certain handiness with all the tools needed to work with them.

I think what makes me a ReadyMaker is the fact that I want things that don’t exist, so I am compelled to make them myself. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m always taking things apart with my eyes, and thinking about how to make them better. Or maybe it’s because I’m so much more satisfied with the fruits of my labor when they are tangible, and you can sit on them.

We’re almost afraid to ask: What does the “average day” look like for you?

Whew, there is no such thing as an “average” day over here. Which, honestly, is sometimes exhausting, but I’ll take that over monotonous any day.

There is a lot of travel, both domestic and international. Typical shoot days are very long, grueling, and always a stressful race against the clock (daylight is precious). I’m either doing strenuous manual labor out in the elements or walking all over the cobbled streets of a European city in the rain while wearing high heels, lugging equipment, holding an umbrella, and preparing interview questions in my mind.

At the end of the day I feel this weird blend of excited, enriched, inspired, extremely self-critical, and utterly exhausted. Every day is different—the project, the locale, the people. It’s intense.  And intensely awesome, hell yeah.  I love every minute of it.

What inspires you?

People.  I’m completely fascinated by them, their stories, psyches, personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and interactions—the whole human enchilada. I’m pretty sure that the reason I’m compelled to make things that are functional and interactive has to do with my personal desire to bond with the user, and develop a very deliberate relationship, physical and otherwise (sounds sexy, huh?) through the very un-self-conscious ritual of utility.

Thank you, Amy, for sharing your DIY philosophies with us. Super inspiring. Welcome aboard Amy Devers, and be sure to ask her your all-things-making questions at articles@readymademag.com