In a studio just south of L.A.'s downtown arts district lies Fort, a wonderland of reclaimed furniture, where eye candy sits at every corner.
On the left is a jumble of old furniture yet to be reimagined. On the right is a wall of seating — M&M-colored folding chairs, an overstuffed footstool in a blue-and-white Moroccan pattern, even a church pew covered in navy fabric with a bold yellow stripe. Straight on, four letters set against the window spell "Fort" (fortgoods.com).
"I grew up in the Midwest from humble beginnings. My parents didn't always have money to give me the latest and greatest, so I was constantly finding things to make something from," says Jacqueline Sharp, the 30-year-old furniture maker and chief executive of Fort. Named after the childhood imagination play, Sharp's company recalls the playfulness of her youth, when she, her siblings and cousins used to take over the basement or attic of their grandparents' house in Rock Island, Ill. "We would run up and down stairs, foraging for stuff so we can build our own environment." The name is also a handy acronym for "furnish or trade," its business model.
Fort takes discarded furniture and scraps and turns them into beautiful pieces that inevitably start conversations. Forsaken pieces come to Sharp chiefly through estate sales and a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and a Hollywood set design company. Sometimes they're just left at the door. More conscientious homeowners have also traded their tired goods for Sharp's reworked pieces. But not everything makes the cut. "I'm not the greatest craftsman or the best educated business person. My greatest skill is seeing potential. When I look at something, see the body and bones, my mind just starts to race. I also look for things I haven't seen before," Sharp says. "No particleboard or MDF [medium-density fiberboard], though. Those things just aren't healthy for you."
Sharp began Fort two years ago, but its roots go further back, when she first moved to Los Angeles and tried to furnish her rented four-bedroom home in Mount Washington. The cost of new furniture shocked Sharp and kindled her resolve to make her own. Using a table saw bought on Craigslist for $50, she taught herself the basics.
She's also helped interior decorators restore old homes, furnish restaurants and put the finishing touches on boutique hotels. Sharp has managed to keep Fort open not by loans but with the revenue made from her furniture pieces, including one sold to Los Angeles craftsman and collector Jason Koharik.
A big believer in building community, Sharp hosts workshops that empower others to pick up power tools or create upcycled works of art. Called Fortnight, workshops are announced two weeks prior to the date and welcome anyone with an inclination to learn a new skill. Sharp also puts on dinners at her studio, bringing strangers together to talk about design, culture and improving Los Angeles. "I feel like there are so many people in our world that are overlooked. I want to give them a space to blossom and shine a light on their creativity."