MAKEbhm’s façade houses Big Spoon Creamery, Manitou Supply, and the former Winslet & Rhys boutique in Avondale. But the presence of what lies beyond the front-facing entities looms large. A courtyard under a canopy of twinkle lights affords the curious onlooker an occasional glimpse into the activity bustling within the massive former warehouse that lies through the garage-style door. Makers and artisans can be seen wielding tools and artistic implements for woodworking, metal-working, ceramics, screen-printing, candle-making, book-binding, stained glass, wood-and-metal mixed media, and even photography development. When things are really cooking, it’s a beautiful mess — an intriguing scene that stirs the imagination and rouses an inner creative spark. So it’s easy to understand why this writer was excited at the opportunity to go inside MAKEbhm.
Upon entry, cofounder Scottie Lanier walks us through an open woodworking studio, curly shavings underfoot as the vibrant buzzing of saws and the fragrant smell of fresh wood fills the air. “That’s Alabama Sawyer’s section,” she explains as we pass an impressive 20-foot-long table that’s mid-assembly.
We move between two sizeable open shelving units that act as breathable walls, and into an open floor plan where one lone jewelry maker’s station rests in the absence of its captain. “This area is divided into 14 nine-by-nine-foot spaces. Susan Gordon Pottery just left us to open her own studio and shop in Homewood. She actually started with six spaces here, and each time someone would move out because her business was growing so rapidly, she’d take their space. She grew to a point where she had 20 employees in here. So she ended up having all the spaces on the floor except one,” says Scottie, laughing happily about their most recent success story.
Standing in the cavernous space feels like walking through a recently vacated chrysalis — a place where something energetic and beautiful was formed and just took flight. This is the transient yet exciting nature of what happens at MAKE.
The making of MAKEbhm started simply enough. “I wanted a woodshop because I’d always been around one,” says architect (and Scottie’s husband) Bruce Lanier, a partner at ArchitectureWorks and the cofounder of MAKEbhm, whose Highland Park home wasn’t conducive to a shop. “So, it initially came out of the idea of just having a shared shop space.” He and some colleagues at ArchitectureWorks began conceptualizing this idea of a gym membership for a tool shop, researching similar concepts in Portland, Oregon, and Brooklyn, New York. “This was back in 2013, when the idea of a ‘makers’ space’ was a relatively new idea,” says Bruce. “There were certainly people who thought that was a cool idea, but you couldn’t build a business out of the membership model alone. So what we did figure out was that people needed space. They needed space to be easy, and they needed to be around people. And so that is kind of what we do here now.”
MAKEbhm has a three-pronged approach that can be treated as a hobby-to-business pipeline or utilized à la carte: introductory classes, membership access to the creative studios, and dedicated space through which to grow a business. “We give people who have an itch to try something an opportunity to try it,” says Bruce. The classes teach the basics and give curious folks a taste of a new skill. If they like it, they can sign up for a membership to access the studios and practice their new craft.
“You don’t have to be a skilled woodworker or know what you’re doing when you come in here. You can learn what you want to do here. It’s not like a siloed community of know-it-alls; it’s intended to be inclusive,” says Bruce.
And then there are the people who have gone from practicing a craft to managing a marketable product. Says Bruce, “Some people come to us because they have a project they want to try as a business; they are coming from an extra bedroom or their garage or basement, and they are just going crazy being alone, or they make a huge mess, making candles in the kitchen, and their partner is like, ‘You have got to move this on.’”
In addition to classes, membership makers and in-house makers managing their growing businesses, landscape architecture and architecture firms are operating out of the larger traditional office spaces, as well as an upstairs area of more conventional coworking spaces housing graphic designers, marketers, publication teams, photographers and more. In such a wildly creative environment, collaboration is inevitable. A graphic designer and a photographer, for instance, have provided a brand and look for Alabama Sawyer.
MAKE’s Director of Operations, Chris Izor, marvels at the beauty of the diverse talents and the culture it creates, saying, “Susan Gordon consistently had around 15 people here a day, but all of them are individual artists. They make Susan’s work for a living, but they are also painters, printmakers, et cetera. So, to have all of those personalities here made for a really rich environment.”
Bruce agrees, adding, “When I come here, I feel refreshed. It feels good. There’s an energy and a positivity, and I think it’s because there’s so much being generated. It’s a generative place. I’ve loved watching it evolve and seeing that it seems to have a place within Birmingham.”
Hannah Mills, Director of Education and Programming, lights up when asked what she loves most about MAKEbhm. She excitedly recounts that she made her own dishes in the MAKE ceramic studio, as well as her bed frame in the woodshop. She adds, “But most recently, I’ve been embarking on a very small screen-printing side job. Being in that situation where I know it’s a slippery slope, I could start printing a ton of T-shirts in the next month if I wanted to, and I’m feeling very excited about where that’s going.”
Normally, you might not want to hint to your employer that you might be launching another career soon, but at MAKEbhm, artistic growth is the name of the game. Bruce recalls Yellowhammer Creative outgrowing their tenure at MAKE. “They were like, ‘Sorry, but we have to move out,’ but we were like, ‘That’s the point!’”
MAKEbhm is located at 4000 3rd Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35222. To learn more or to schedule a tour, visit makebhm.com and fill out their online form, or call (205) 218-1796. If you are interested in becoming a tenant in their new venture, M2, in the former Old Car Heaven building in Avondale, learn more at m2bhm.com.
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