How a USC student built his art into a business


When his dog grew too large to share a bed with him, Cameron Holbrooks saw only one option: He was going to need a bed big enough to hold them both. Instead of going online to scroll through stock at IKEA, he started sketching. He went to the store, bought some materials to match his design, and built an entirely new frame from scratch. This brought about a new problem: The new bed was big enough to hold the dog, but the bedroom wasn’t big enough to hold the bed.

Dejected but determined to at least make something of the whole ordeal, he put the bed on Craigslist, where it sold in less than two hours for five times what it had cost to make it. Instead of pocketing the money, saving it for food or concert tickets or video games, he used it to buy more wood. This time, he made several tables that ended up garnering a profit of a couple thousand dollars. One thing was for sure: He could make something of this.

This was his junior year of high school. These days, Holbrooks is a full-time second-year nursing student at USC, but he hasn't stopped building furniture. In the years since high school, he has expanded his hobby into Holbrooks Designs, a furniture company that supplies clients from Charlotte to Atlanta with locally-sourced, hand-crafted dining tables, beds, and more. All of it comes straight from his workshop in Pendleton, South Carolina, where he makes every piece by himself – and by hand.

Figuring out the ins and outs of keeping a company afloat was another challenge Holbrooks had to confront alone. He grew up watching his father run a small business facing boat docks, but other than that he had no background in running a business. 

“It’s a lot of guess and check,” Holbrooks says. 

But as time went on, he taught himself how to network, market, and manage effectively. He stresses the importance of reinvesting when it comes to building a company. Most of the profits he makes go right back into Holbrooks Designs, building his inventory so he’s never without high-quality materials to create more pieces.

Though he’s managed to turn it into a legitimate company, complete with t-shirts, ads and business cards, the foundation of the whole endeavor is firmly rooted in the creative side of things. 

“I can’t draw at all,” Holbrooks says, “but I’ve always enjoyed art and creating things. The most rewarding thing is taking a blank canvas and adding all the right details.”

It’s something he stresses in his work, the details. When he starts a new project, he takes a long look over the wood he’s working with and makes note of all the knots and cracks, anything he can augment and manipulate to bring out the natural beauty in the material. It all culminates into pieces that walk a clever line between the modern and the traditional, marrying the strong, angular look of welded metal legs with the warm, inviting tones of the wooden tabletops.

It’s a tough balance, maintaining the company along with staying on top of school work. There have been days when he’s been in the car at four in the morning to make a delivery to the upstate and back by ten for class. There was a time when he was taken advantage of by a furniture store who took several tables and instead of giving him his cut of the profits, skipped town without a word to anyone. He’s considered cutting the business altogether, but he hasn’t given up. 

“Whether it be life, relationships, or a business, you’re going to face trials,” he says, “but if you stand behind your work and stay fully committed to your ideals, then you can weather any storm that comes your way.”

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