If you want to go “way back when,” says Preston Hollow resident Dick Klein, his fascination with woodworking probably started when he was 10.
That Christmas, his parents gave him a mini-lathe made by Mattel, and he spent the next couple of years experimenting with balsa wood, making things like pine derby cars and speaker boxes. After awhile, however, his fascination with the new hobby died down, and the lathe was stashed away.
Fast forward more than 25 years later. It’s around 1990, and Klein is now married to his wife, Susan. They have a toddler named Lauren, and Susan’s out shopping at a store called Storkland.
“ They sold kids’ and baby stuff … clothes, furniture, that kind of thing,” Klein says. “My wife saw this little girl’s armoire there, and she really liked it.”
One problem though: It had a price tag of $850.
“I was like: Whoa, wait a minute here,” he says. “So I thought: I’ll borrow my brother’s table saw and see if I can make one of these.”
He did, “for a lot less money,” he says now. “That was really my first piece.”
What started as a way to save a few hundred dollars soon snowballed into a full-blown obsession, the memory of the lathe-wielding 10-year-old rearing its crafty head.
For the next five years, Klein, who then worked for Northern Telecom, continued building in his workshop in his spare time.
“I used to get up at 5 a.m. and spend an hour in the shop before breakfast,” he says. “Then I’d come home after work and spend the rest of the evening in the shop making things and just experimenting. I was drawn to it with such a strong attraction that I just couldn’t get away from it.
“And eventually,” he adds, “I got pretty good at it.”
In fact, after five years of self-training, Klein started to get paying jobs, making dining tables and armoires for friends.
“After awhile, I was getting an increasing number of comments … things like: You’re really good at this. Have you ever thought about doing this full time?”
He hadn’t, but those questions soon gave him enough confidence to quit his job and start his own furniture-building company, Elegant Grains. In the eight years since he began full time, Klein has found it’s the right fit for him.
“I just like having total control over every single aspect of a project, from the conceptual stage right down until it’s done and installed,” says Klein, who admits to being something of a control freak. “There were a lot of things I wasn’t getting in the corporate world in terms of gratification and self-satisfaction and those types of things. With this, I get them.”
He designs and builds mostly oversized furniture pieces such as armoires, floor-to-ceiling entertainment units and shelving. Customers like him because he doesn’t work in any particular style — his portfolio contains both highly traditional and contemporary pieces.
“That’s one of the many draws,” he says. “I love the variety.”
Klein’s daughter Lauren is now 14 and goes to Hillcrest, and he and Susan also have a 10-year-old son, Spencer, who’s at Kramer Elementary. An involved father, he’s donated some of his work and time to school-related causes.
“At Kramer, I built the freestanding trophy case just inside the front door, and I was involved in building the deck in the front of the school and the gazebo in the school’s garden area,” he says. “At
He’s also donated several pieces to school fund-raisers. It is, he says, a good example to set for the kids, both in terms of philanthropy and doing what you love.
“I read a lot back when I was thinking about making a career change,” he says. “And one of the things I read that has really stuck with me that I hope to pass on to my kids is that it’s really important that people explore and find out what they really, really like to do. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re very good at it. But if you find something you want to do 24 hours a day, you will eventually become good at it.”
Klein, of course, knows this for a fact.
“I just enjoy the beauty of fine woods,” he says. “I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I do.”
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Preston Hollow.