When Chicago-native Brian K. Ellison made the decision to leave a 15-year career in real estate development to pursue his passion for architecture, woodworking and furniture building nine years ago, he never imagined it would end up landing him a spot on Spike TV’s hit show, Framework, but that’s exactly what happened.
“I received a call from a friend of mine out of the blue asking me if I’d be interested in speaking with a casting agency in California about a reality show for furniture makers and I [agreed to it],” Ellison says. “She sent in my information along with a video [and] two weeks after that, I was on a plane to L.A. It all happened really quickly.”
Framework premiered back in January and is the first-ever furniture design competition series. Hosted by Common, 13 of the nation’s best emerging furniture designers are forced to put their artistry and skills to the test for 10 weeks, competing for a $100,000 cash prize and the opportunity to have their work sold by a major manufacturer.
Although Ellison was eliminated in the seventh episode (Jory Brigham was ultimately named the winner), he’s gained a lot of exposure and has a few exciting things up his sleeve as he continues to expand his already-successful company BKE Designs. As of now, his work sits in the homes of art collectors, restaurants, historic buildings and even in the Chicago Mayor’s office. His next goal is to establish a collection of five to 10 pieces of furniture and accessories under the BKE Designs brand.
Just how long does it take for Ellison to create all those amazing pieces? “It depends,” he says. “The show had us making pieces in 24 hours and we were able to do it and there were definitely flaws and errors, but I think a comfortable pace for me is 10 to 15 days-depending on the piece, of course.”
For other African Americans who are considering a career in design, Ellison says “Be positive. Don’t expect it to just be handed to you and don’t expect it to be easy because it’s not at all easy. Just hang in there.”
Ellison says interpreting and execute exactly what his clients ask for brings him the most joy. “Being able to create something is the ultimate reward because I get to make things that people can use, see and touch that has a history to it,” he says. “It’s a lot more special than just going to the store to pick up a chair. All my pieces have my personality in them, they have my perfections and imperfections in them. It’s personal, so personal.”
Princess Gabbara is a 20-something Michigan-based journalist and freelance writer. As a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, she’s contributed to a host of publications, including xoJane.com, ClutchMagOnline.com, ForHarriet.com, BlackDoctor.org, and Sesi Magazine. You can read more of her work on her blog. She also tweets @PrincessGabbara.