Painter, woodworker, mother, and member of the Leeward Furniture family business, Gina Kim, has a lot going on but still finds time to be inspired and find new paths. We caught up with her in their woodshop in Philadelphia and talked about the balance between parenting, running a business, and tackling dream projects.
Where are you from, where are you now, and how did you end up there?
I was born in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. I currently live in the suburbs right outside of Northeast Philadelphia. I’ve always been around this area minus the time I lived in Rhode Island to attend art school. I found a job right out of college and moved back home to be close to my family.
How did you get started in furniture and woodworking?
I got my start in furniture and woodworking mostly in a design capacity. Before this, I worked as a textile designer for 8 years, and majored in textile design at school. When I had my daughter in 2018, John and I decided to start a family business to allow for more flexibility with our schedules as well as more independence as designers and makers. So three months after our daughter, Miki, was born, we launched Leeward Furniture.
For the first nine months, I worked from home while caring for Miki full-time. I managed social media, helped with design work, and did most of the emailing and scheduling. After 9 months, I needed to get back into work in a more physical capacity, so I started to get into the shop more. I slowly took on more responsibilities in the woodshop — due to John’s excellent teaching skills — and am now comfortable with most tasks and tools.
What do you enjoy most about the work?
The thing I love most about this work is the continuity of the process. I used to think woodworking was somewhat tedious, but I have really come to appreciate the order of events that are necessary to get you to the final piece. The work has taught me a lot about life and the way I want to live it. It’s asked me to slow down, be more intentional, and re-do things when I know they’re not quite right — regardless of how long that might take. Oh, and the smell. I really love the smell of the woodshop, especially when I’m working with sassafras.
“The work has taught me a lot about life and the way I want to live it. It’s asked me to slow down, be more intentional, and re-do things when I know they’re not quite right — regardless of how long that might take.”
How would you describe your style and who or what has influenced it?
I feel like I haven’t arrived at my own style yet. Up until this point, Leeward has done primarily custom work with the exception of a few projects that we’ve designed ourselves. When we design for ourselves, our influences are found in Shaker, Danish, and Japanese style furniture. We like a no-fuss, simple aesthetic. For me personally, I hope to explore more organic forms in our furniture going forward. Within the next year or two, our goal is to offer a collection of our own designs.
You are also a painter — how do the two practices play off of each other?
So far, painting is a way for me to balance my creative scales. Woodworking is a real investment in time, and I don’t yet have the skill or freedom within it to create something that’s a pure reflection of me. I put a lot of love and effort into woodworking when I’m doing it, but painting is an outlet for me to more readily express myself. There are a lot of times when I’m in a moment that I think about translating it into a painting, but I have yet to feel that connection with woodworking in my more personal life. Painting comes more naturally to me just because I’ve done it for so much longer. I’m hoping that after working in the woodshop for many more years, I will feel the same sense of familiarity with it that breeds more fluid confidence for me when I paint.
How has becoming a parent changed your work or approach to either practice?
Becoming a mother has changed everything for me. Besides time becoming immeasurably more precious, my self-image has changed drastically as well. My identity went from feeling like a small stone that weighed me down, to feeling more like water: more malleable, and therefore, more capable. While parenting is a constantly humbling experience that often leaves me feeling pretty inadequate, it also pushes me to be more daring in other aspects of my life, for my daughter’s sake as much as mine.
Since becoming a mother, I’ve become much more willing to learn new things in and out of the woodshop. I’ve become a lot stronger, and a lot less afraid to fuck up. Although becoming a mom was not planned for me, and sometimes I still mourn the loss of my pre-parent self, I have to admit that I have taken infinitely more steps towards becoming the person I want to be since Miki was born than I did before.
“Since becoming a mother, I’ve become much more willing to learn new things in and out of the woodshop.”
Do you have a dream project?
John and I are currently working on our dream project of converting a van into a camper so that we can take our family all over the country to visit friends, see National Parks, and learn about life outside of our bubble. I’ve had this dream since high school and last summer I convinced myself and John that we should buy a van, move to my parents’ house while we convert it, and then play it by ear from there. We’ve been working on it for the past 8 months, and there were definitely stretches of time when we sorely regretted our decision to give up a beautiful house we were renting in the city — and any semblance of personal space — but nothing good comes easy and we’re almost done now with the conversion. My next goal is to find a plot of land, build a small house and woodshop/art studio, and continue creating things and meeting awesome people.