Thursday, November 5, 2015

Art + Function: Meet David and Christina Whippen of ShopFloor Design

ShopFloor Design focuses on custom metalwork, fine art sculpture, metal fabrication and machining. Here are owners Christina and David Whippen sitting with their Modular Side Table and Modular Cabinet.
Although the look of the Dogpatch neighborhood has changed tremendously over the past few years, it is still home to many artists and craftsmen.  Finding out how to stay in the neighborhood calls for a long term vision and the willingness to adapt to changing market conditions.

ShopFloor Design is one such business that has figured out how to create and thrive not just for their own business, but also for local designers as well.

Located in SoDoPa (south of the Dogpatch!) at 26th and Minnesota, the ShopFloor building is home to just opened (and already much visited) Harmonic Brewing as well as other designers and artists.

Founded by David Whippen seven years ago and expanded by David and his wife Christina over the past two years, ShopFloor Design focuses on custom metalwork, fine art sculpture, metal fabrication and machining.

Why do you do what you do?

I can't imagine doing anything else.  I like the idea of using my fine art background in a practical way.  I moved to San Francisco from New York to attend grad school in 2004 -- I received my MFA from the Academy of Art in sculpture.  I love working with metal and the precise nature of machined parts. I was initially inspired by my grandfather who started a machine tool shop after WWII.  After grad school I worked on several public art projects in Tomales Bay and commuted to my home in SF.
I enjoyed working on the projects but became focused on finding a way to work closer to home.  It was also becoming obvious that many of the artists I had graduated with were having a terrible time finding and keeping studio space.  They needed a spot they could rely on to be there long term and a landlord that wouldn't charge them huge fees to use the machines.  When I found this building I knew I could have my own studio as well as be a resource for my fellow artists.  I own all the equipment and charge a flat fee to other artists to use the machines.

This business is a good mix of my creative nature with my sales and marketing side.  I started my professional career at Google in marketing and sales but left to pursue my passion for pastry.  I graduated from the pastry program at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa and together with another pastry chef opened a pastry catering company called Bicyclette.  I actually had a commercial space across the street from ShopFloor.  I bring my creative skills to the design part of our business but also my precise pastry nature to sales and marketing.

Right now we design and manufacture custom furniture and design pieces and sell them primarily to architects and designers. We are refocusing our company to also sell direct to the consumer.
Michael Walsh sands a table at Shopfloor in Dogpatch.

Why Dogpatch?

Even seven years ago there were few places available to rent for a commercial machine shop. We were fortunate to find a landlord who is fair yet business minded.  It is a family owned business and they are in it for the future so they weren't opposed to giving us a long lease.  Our business fit the current zoning and usage for this neighborhood so the city gave us the go ahead.

We love the neighbors -- it feels like a small town within the large city.  We even sometimes lend tools to our neighbors or produce small jobs for them on the machines.

I had a vision for a space with large windows that would showcase the industrial space within.  I had seen a similar space years ago on the East Coast.  I wanted a showroom that would showcase how these pieces were made right here and by me.

We started to renovate the rest of our space several years ago with this vision in mind.  We did a lot of the work ourselves.  I wanted the space to look old and established, like it had been here a very long time.

The result is our showroom just for our custom furniture designs.  We had originally planned to put a commercial kitchen space that could be rented in the other part of the large space but when Christina decided to join the company we decided we wanted a different type of a business there like a distillery or brewery.  We are very pleased that Harmonic Brewing is in that space now.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing this?

I'm already doing what I love, where I want to do it with people I enjoy working with.  But if I had to pick something else I might do well as an architect.

I've already sampled enough careers and I'm very pleased with what I have ordered this time!
Shopfloor Design's Christina and David Whippen at their Weldsafe Platen Table in their shop in Dogpatch.