When the Covid-19 shutdown kicked in last March, Louis DeFelice was living in Brooklyn and at the very early stages of his audio career. Having graduated from Yale in 2019 with a B.A. in English, he had already interned and assisted at Electric Lady Studios and had just started a job at Gramercy Post, doing sound design, editing and mixing to picture.
One year later, he’s still at Gramercy, working the same amount of hours. Meanwhile, he has added custom woodworking to his skill set and launched a boutique studio furniture company, first out of his parents’ garage, and six months later from a warehouse in Queens, where he owns and operates Carpenter Studio Gear. His is an excellent story of taking the opportunity provided by down time to indulge another passion. And making it a success.
Can you describe where you were in your career when the pandemic hit?
I was six months into my job at Gramercy Post. Moving to entirely remote work last March was particularly hard because I lost the opportunity to sit in and actually watch the other engineers work. As the youngest person on staff, I had a good deal less experience, so learning the ins and outs of the other engineers’ approaches became a bit harder. I was also working on maybe four or five albums in different capacities, and those projects were all initially put on pause as everyone spread out and began quarantining. And of course performing at live shows was and is a no-go.
You say that you ‘had some time on your hands,’ but it had to be more than that. Where did you get the passion for woodwork?
When the pandemic hit, I went down to South Carolina to be with my family. Audio people are lucky in that we can work wherever we have a computer and headphones. I obviously couldn’t go anywhere on evenings or weekends, so I’d try to stay busy at the house. My dad has a shed in the backyard with some materials, so we spent time fixing the porch, building a lean-to, that kind of thing. I grew up on a farm, so a working knowledge of a lot of tools was just a given.
In the meantime, I wanted a better rack for my home rig back in the city, and so did a friend. I found an old dresser on the side of the road, took it apart, cut it up with a handsaw in the kitchen and sanded it down. I called it my Redneck Rack. I did a much nicer one for my friend a few months later, and that cemented some of the techniques that I use now, as well as clued me in to the fact that other engineers might want these. After posting a couple photos online with an offer to custom-build other ones, things took off.
From your parents’ garage to a big space in Queens, it has happened pretty fast.
My first proper sale was June 1, 2020. At that point each order would require a trip to Lowes to buy just enough materials for a single rack. By a month or two later, when I was driving back to New York from South Carolina, I actually had to pull over twice to stop at Home Depots because orders kept coming in while I was driving. By mid-August I hired a buddy to help me, and we’d work together on the weekends out of the little garage outside my apartment. At that point it was still a fun and manageable weekend gig. Once the winter hit, though, working in and out of the tiny, unheated garage became unsustainable.
As of January 2021 we share an enormous, well-appointed woodworking facility in Ridgewood (Queens). They’ve got every machine you could really want, and we have the space now to store big shipments of lumber, rack rails, boxes, finishes, etc.
Anything else we should know?
I feel lucky. Starting a small business is intensely stressful, but I’ve gotten a lot of good breaks along the way from forgiving customers, helpful friends, etc. The customers are amazing. It’s also meant a lot to me to put tens of thousands of dollars in the drawers at local businesses, and rent money in the pockets of the people I’ve employed, at a time when work is pretty hard to come by. While my first love is music and sound, this has been a phenomenally rewarding experience so far, and I’m very curious to see where it goes.