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Actor Terry Crews introduces a contemporary furniture collection. Yep, he's doing that now

Terry Crews has lived many roles: actor, game show host, courtroom sketch artist, Old Spice pitchman, security guard, People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive, defensive end and, most recently, high-end furniture designer

But he’s not big on titles, or for that matter, dwelling on the past.

“I call myself a unicorn,” said Crews. “I’m the biggest unicorn in Hollywood.”

At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, the former NFL player isn’t just talking about his stature — it’s more about his refusal to be put in a box.

“People only want you to have one dream,” said Crews. “It’s, like, if you’ve worked at McDonald’s … you know how to make a Big Mac, but are you always a ‘former Big Mac maker’?”

Crews grew up in Flint, Mich., where, he says, lip service was often given to the idea of achieving your dreams, but in reality few believed it. “People would always say, ‘Terry you can do anything,’ but then when you would tell them what you wanted to do they’d go, ‘What makes you think you can do that?’”

“If you say I can’t,” said Crews, “I have to find out if I can’t. I won’t take your word for it.”

And when Crews decides to find out, he leans in like an NFL defensive end.

At almost 49 years old, Crews is embarking on what he estimates is his seventh career, this time as a furniture designer for New York-based Bernhardt Design.

Debuting this month at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York — one of the largest, trend-setting design shows in the U.S. — the Terry Crews Collection will represent more than a year’s worth of work and a lifetime of creativity.

Evolution of a chair

Here’s a look at how Crews’ idea went from sketch to reality:

At last, it looks like the kid who was awarded an art scholarship long before he earned a football scholarship has come full circle.

After entering the design world first through his own personal projects and then through his financial support of emerging designer Ini Archibong’s 2016 debut collection (which earned accolades at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, Italy, one of the world's largest and most prestigious furniture fairs), Crews attracted the attention of Jerry Helling, president and creative director of the influential furniture maker Bernhardt Design.

“Jerry said, ‘I want to work with you,’ ” said Crews. “He said, ‘I know you’re an artist and an illustrator and I want you to design your own collection.’ ”

“I was, like, whaaaaat?” I knew I had to say yes,” Crews said. “It was that moment where I was, like, how am I going to do this … and then I thought just go.”

It’s been said courage is fear that has said its prayers. Not coincidentally, Crews’ design house is dubbed Amen & Amen.

“It doesn’t mean you’re not scared [to try something new],” said the father of five, “but you go in spite. That’s what courageousness is — doing it afraid.”

To break away from the stylistic influence of his design heroes (Charles and Ray Eames, Saarinen, Corbusier), Crews arrived at his own point of view using a narrative process similar to set design.

He said he asked himself the question: What if the civilization of ancient Egypt had never disappeared and we were still living with pharaohs, but in a modern way?

His answers and hundreds of sketches provided the foundation for the debut collection, which will be available at Twentieth, Hive Modern and YLiving.com.

The outstretched wings of the sacred Egyptian ibis form the back of a sleek, contemporary sofa, and his low, organically shaped Float tables (starting at $1,100) and Aire benches ($700) recall stones in the Nile.

The swiveling Lilypad chair with ottoman ($3,800) is designed to look like it floats.

Each piece is customizable using options that include polished or matte black stainless steel, American walnut and a selection of Bernhardt leathers and textiles.

For a guy who admits to once digging for coins among his couch cushions to now designing high-end sofas with prices that start at $5,500, Crews has come a long way.

“I tell people, ‘If I can do it, you can do it,’ ” said Crews. But dreams don’t come cheap.

“Sometimes people say they want to do something,” said Crews, “but it’s time, energy, frustration, that voice of insecurity — it’s going to be painful. It’s not going to feel great. But all of the suffering will be worth it once it is done. Then it all makes sense — but not one minute before. Not one minute before.”

home@latimes.com

Bonnie McCarthy contributes to the Los Angeles Times as a home and lifestyle design writer. She enjoys scouting for directional trends and reporting on what’s new and next. Follow her on Twitter @ThsAmericanHome

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