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If you’re a dedicated reader of this “Meet This Artist” series, you may be wondering if we’ve lost our minds in this summer heat and are running the story about Tony Peacock the writer for a second time. But no, believe it or not, there are actually two Tony Peacocks living in Chatham County, and each is an artist in his own right. We told you about Tony Peacock the writer back in May, and this month we are pleased to present another Tony Peacock, whose artistic medium of choice is wood. You may have seen his beautiful cutting boards on display in the new Ace Hardware in Pittsboro, or if you follow him on Instagram, you might have seen his beautiful carpentry projects. Please read on for more about this talented woodworker!
Tell me about yourself.
My last name is actually Pica. When I was in elementary school, they used to pick on me and call me Tony Peacock, so I just went with it. My ancestors came over from Italy on the boat to Ellis Island, and that’s where my family started, in New York. That’s where I was born. We go visit New York every now and again, and everybody there still knows me and my family. I’m fourth generation in the trades, as a carpenter. My great-grandfather was really well known there. People actually recognize me because apparently I look just like him. I’ve been stopped by some older gentlemen while I was there, and they would say, “I know who you are — you look just like him.”
I was only six months old when we moved down to North Carolina, and I’ve been a Chatham County resident ever since. I grew up a little less fortunate on a tobacco farm in rural Chatham County. That really influenced my love for old things. I’ve been considered a very old soul. I was always repurposing things; I learned the value of a dollar and how to work with what you have. That’s why I’m very heavy on recycling and repurposing things now.
When I was in high school, I struggled to find myself. I guess that was the artist in me, but I didn’t know that at the time. I definitely knew at an early age that college was not for me. I wanted to be just like my dad, who built his construction business, which was doing very well at the time. I wanted to follow in his footsteps, so that’s what I did. I learned a little bit about all aspects of construction and carpentry, everything from trim to roofing and everything in between. I was doing really well until the recession hit. At that point, my kids were only two and four years old, and I had to put food on the table. Thankfully I was able to go on unemployment, but I started suffering from depression. I blamed myself for what was going on. I took a couple of jobs just to stay afloat — I did pest control for a little while, and I was a chimney sweep for a little while. Things eventually got better, and I went back to construction and the trades. I was doing well. I had plenty of work, but I just wasn’t fulfilled.
Then one day over the winter, it was snowing outside, and I couldn’t get to work. I remember going outside and playing with the kids in the snow. I walked back to my garage where all of my tools were just sitting there, and I remember thinking that all of my money was just sitting there. So I started thinking about what I could do during all four seasons to make money. I walked in the house, where my wife was looking at Wayfair’s website. She was looking at a sofa table, so I said to her, “I can build that.” She’s like, “No, you can’t.” So you know when you tell someone that they can’t do something, they automatically feel that they have to prove that they can? I went outside, and I dug out some reclaimed wood from a house remodel. It was actually a big renovation of a craftsman bungalow that was built in 1903, so it had some really nice posts and beams. When I went outside and started working on the table, things started to click. I was really enjoying it.
So I brought the table in, and I was really proud of it. My wife loved it. We had a dinner party two weeks later where all of her friends saw it, and it just snowballed from there. All of a sudden, I had people asking me to build different things. I already had the skills to build things, so I just had to apply it to furniture. I found my niche that way. It’s one of those things where, even five years later, I go to bed thinking about it, and it gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s more than just my profession. It’s more than just my hobby. It’s truly my lifestyle.
When you were a kid, were you always working with wood or putting things together?
Once I got to school-age, my mom went back to work, and we couldn’t afford a babysitter so my dad would load up me, my brother, and our dog in the truck. That’s why I always have a dog with me because it’s just normal for me. We loaded everybody up in the work truck, and he took us to work every day. He would have us doing everything from sweeping the floor to moving lumber around. Then during the summer after eighth grade, I just wanted money in my pocket, so I started doing interior trim and nailing down baseboards. That’s how I got started, and my curiosity and interest continued to grow from there. I took as many carpentry classes in high school as I could. I actually ended up becoming really great friends with my high school carpentry teacher, and he still comes to the shop and hangs out, probably once a week. He was a big mentor for me in high school. He really helped me get through school. So now that I have a son, I’m trying to see if he’s interested in woodworking. I’m not trying to push him in that direction, but if he wants to learn, I’ll be right there to show him, because it definitely helped me.
Tell me about your design process. Do people come to you with a photo of something they’d like you to replicate or do you design from scratch?
I get design concepts thrown at me in many different ways. When I first started out, people often handed me a picture of something they’d seen on Pinterest. Now I have a lot of interior designers and general contractors who come to me with specs. It’s really getting fun now because people are coming to me for my style. They’ll come to me now, and they say that they need the piece to fit a certain area, but they want me to make it look cool. My personal designs are more folk looking, using more native material. I use a lot of tobacco sticks because like I said, I grew up on a tobacco farm. I’m also heavy on the reclaimed and repurposed items. Anytime I can incorporate that stuff, I do. I love raw material, and I love to incorporate metal, too. It just fits my personality.
Tell me about some of the commissions that you’ve gotten.
We’ve done some really cool stuff, like the tables at Starrlight Mead and a ten-foot table for the Carrboro Fire Department for their new kitchen. For the fire department table, we did a nice epoxy pour with their logo in the middle. We also just finished up one of the biggest projects of my career, which was for a bicycle company. We’re making display kiosks for them for all of their retail stores across the country. We also have a really large cutting board display going on right now in the new True Value store where the old Piggly Wiggly used to be in Pittsboro.
So what do you think are your signature pieces? I saw your beautiful sliding barn doors on Instagram — are those a popular order?
Yeah, I’d say we’ve become the sliding barn door authority in this area, for sure. It wasn’t intentional — it just kind of happened. They’re a really easy way to get functional art into your home. You can change the look anytime you want to, and it’s so much less surgery to install than cutting your wall apart to do pocket doors that are recessed. I really try to stay innovative with designs. We do the installation as well, which sets us apart.
What has the last year been like for you with the pandemic and the increase in lumber prices?
I’ve been extremely fortunate. The only thing I had to change this year was my plan to scale the business. Prior to the pandemic, I had a really good plan to scale my business and hire three more people. So we had to put that on hold. When the pandemic began, I was actually transitioning into the space that I’m in now, and it was supposed to be about double what it is now because I wanted to do a showroom. I put the brakes on that because people are shopping differently. We’re basically in a holding pattern right at the moment with growth. We’ve got more work than we can do, but I’m going to change things up and go more online. I’m going to switch my website to a Shopify site so people can buy directly from the website. I’m also going to reach out to other retailers and basically wholesale to them so that I can branch out and have more eyes on my stuff in different places.
We also had to change the way we worked since we work inside of people’s homes. There was about a month or so where we really didn’t know what was going on, which took a little bit to recover from. But then we just asked people to vacate while we came in and did our thing. Everybody was really respectful of that. But the current situation that we’re dealing with right now is definitely the lumber prices. There are all kinds of theories as to why the prices are what they are, but at the end of the day, it really hits us hard because our labor price hasn’t changed. My prices are only good for about a week because the lumber prices are changing so much. Eventually people are going to say no. So at that point, then what, you know, what do we do? Right now I’m experimenting with some synthetic materials like epoxy, which is cost-effective right now, and it looks cool. I’ve always dealt with small local sawmills, but even those folks are feeling it too because they’re having to pay more for the actual log, so they’re having to pass that down to me. I even considered buying my own sawmill, but the lead time on those is six to eight months right now, which is insane. I’m very thankful for the larger jobs that I have that keep the lights on. At the moment we have about 12 or so weeks of custom client work lined up.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
I’m a big dreamer. I started my woodshop by myself in my two-car garage. It was hard for me to figure out how to make it into a business. How do you go from being in your garage to actually putting food on your table with it? Early on, I had to do things very cheap or free just to get my name out there. But I love business. I have been on a mission to make this work, even though there’s no textbook to go by. There are very few people that you can call and bounce ideas off of. It’s really just a shot in the dark a lot of times with what sells and what doesn’t — there’s often no rhyme or reason.
But the vision that I have for my business is to make it an attraction. I would love for people to want to come hang out at the shop, to see what we have going on. I’d love to do some type of co-op workspace, or to have some type of area where people can host meetings. I’d love to offer a conference area and have a viewing window so that people can see us working in the shop. My hope is that it would spark some of their imagination, too. I’d also love to have five carpenters and a warehouse-type person to keep things organized. But I’d really like to scale the business to where eventually we can do full build-outs for restaurants and bars. I want to do all the finishes — everything from the bar, to the floor, to the tables, and what the wall looks like behind the bar. That’s where we’re going.
The biggest thing for me is the pride that I have just being from Chatham County. I’ve seen this area grow tremendously. There used to only be one stoplight from Cole Park to the courthouse circle. I’m proud of where I come from. Growing up on the tobacco farm really shaped me. I grew up in a house with a lot of love, and that’s what defines me. Plus being a fourth generation tradesman is kind of unheard of nowadays.
Last question: Tell me about those cool benches with the Ford truck tailgates.
I went to school with Mark and Chris from Sanders Automotive — they’re both good buddies of mine. They needed a bench outside, and I had an old Ford truck laying around in my yard. I took the tailgate off of it, and I built them a bench. Now people ask me to make them all the time, but it’s hard to get those tailgates now, so I have a waiting list for them. I mean, if they bring me a tailgate, there’s no problem, but if I have to source it, it’s a little trickier for sure.
I also just recently did one for the new True Value store. It’s sitting out in front of the store. It turned out really cool. We had to bolt it down so nobody would steal it. But I’m a car guy at heart, too. My dad was a big outdoors man growing up, he loved to hunt and fish. He tried to push me in that direction, but I went the opposite direction. I love cars. I have a 1968 Ford pickup truck. My dad had an old Ford truck that he used for work when I was growing up. My dad couldn’t afford to put a battery in the truck, so my mom would get in the driver’s seat every morning while my dad pushed the truck down the driveway, and he’d pop-start it so he could go to work. Like I said, I’ve been on both sides of the tracks, and it’s given me an appreciation for all walks of life.