Keith Lockerby, 37, owner of the J&K Lockerby Engineering & Fabrication Co., a South Philadelphia design-build studio specializing in custom furniture and cabinetry and turning out small runs of products, like solid-walnut speakers, lamps, and candleholders. (The J in the name, he says, was inserted by a branding firm.)
The extent of Lockerby's formal training is high school shop class. But he loved making things and always kept a small shop, even when he pursued a career in finance. "I always had the attitude that if someone else can make something, I can probably make it, too," he said. His hobby turned into a sideline, which in 2012 evolved into a full-time pursuit.
Lockerby started out by saying yes to every project, then going back to his shop and quietly panicking over how he'd get it done.
"There are like 20 elements to this business, and 19 of them I was just barely passable at," he said. Now, he has a team of four employees with varied expertise who work on projects ranging from front doors to kitchen tables to cabinets and mirrors for hair salons.
Most of the company's work is commissions, but Lockerby and his staffers often tinker with experiments in the shop, and some of those yield new product lines: sets of hand-stamped brass dice in wooden cases, candleholders, mirrors.
Their walnut speakers, which start at $680 ($880 with a Bluetooth amplifier), are among the most popular items. Lockerby developed them through research and trial and error. "I made them for myself at first, and posted them on Instagram," he said, "and, right away, people asked if they're for sale."
Lockerby takes a minimalist approach.
"You can see our fingerprints on projects, and a lot of those markings are restraint," he said. "We pull things back and try for a clean look. We never try to add more."
He thinks of his work as invoking the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which ascribes beauty to imperfections. "We do things in a really old-school way, so we don't have robots making anything or have half-million-dollar CNC machines. Every hole that's drilled, every part that's put together, was done by one of us. You can tell it's handmade, and I think people really like that."
The company is online at JKLockerby.com.