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Trade clxv | Month 23 | Spring

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 Stephen Muscarella

Stephen Muscarella is one of those guys who reminds you of a protector. You know in those movies when there is that slightly taller and bigger built lad who comes in and fights a bear or lion to save a child and mother who are completely defenceless? That’s Stephen. Except he saves people from bad, unloved pieces of furniture in their homes and apartments by building beautiful, thoughtful and rugged ones instead. He does so from his small creative space called The Brookyln Garage.

The Pixel Trade was spending a few days with Stephen learning about his space The Brooklyn Garage, which is essentially a place that allows him to hold workshops and classes for others who want to learn a thing or two about working with timber. His garage is the first of a series of small spaces he is creating underneath the train tracks in Borough Park to promote this idea of creating 'big things in small spaces'. He has one other garage that is a gym...what comes next, only he knows.

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Interview with Stephen

Describe your most memorable adventure as a child.

Nothing really sticks out. Adventure was a pretty normal part of our diet growing up. One time when I was 9ish the whole family was skiing in Jackson Hole and at my urging we decided to go down a poorly marked trail. The snow was brilliant and we all hooted and hollered with delight. What a great decision! But then the trail ended rather abruptly at a 50' cliff and all of a sudden shit got real. Or at least it did in my mind. The escape route was a narrow pathway right at the cliff's edge. Kind of terrifying. My brother and I took off our skis. The adults did the shimmy with our equipment in hand. I'm not sure why we took off our skis as it was pretty treacherous trying to scurry sideways wearing shitty plastic boots that just barely dug into the ice/snow mixture. Somehow, I scrambled through ahead of everyone and I remember sitting in the gully of a mogul waiting for what seemed like ages. Why is it taking so long? I can't see them. How sucky would it be if they all died? Man that would be really sucky. 

What is the Brooklyn Garage all about?

The Brooklyn Garage is all about getting tools into uncalloused hands. A lot of people do all their work in front of a computer screen and never get any concrete evidence that their labor is actually doing anything. Grappling with a hands-on project with tools and raw materials provides extremely objective feedback. It also connects us to the material world. In terms of the work one does, I can't think of too many other elements that are more important. 


I've since moved on from the project as I've decided that I'd like to move out of the city in the next year or so. Unfortunately, the garage is a pretty stationary business endeavor. However, I'd love to pass it onto someone else who is interested in taking up the cause!

What point did you realise working with timber was you jive?

I was always pretty down with nature and physicality, but my family pushed me in the direction of the white collar world -- a world that has been good to them. But as I got older and attempted suit and tie things, I always came back to manual labor which morphed into the trades. I needed to see the product of my work and the progression of my skill. At 25 after reading Shop Class as Soulcraft, I was able to just say, "Fuck it. I'm going to earn my living working with my hands." At that time I had a little carpentry experience and a little wrenching-on-my-car experience. While I love me some wood, it was actually the path of least resistance and people in NYC seemed to want me to make them furniture. As I'm typing this, I'm exploring leather as a material more and more. Looks like my brand - Left to Right - will be evolving to suit my interests! I'm not sure I'll ever fall completely in love with any medium. I'm more in love with learning the skills, being self-reliant, and making cool stuff that maybe other people will like, too.

Is there anything that you particularly like to create?

I find that I run hottest when I'm making something from scraps, discarded items, and/or found stuff. I love the constraint of $0 materials costs.

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What was one of the most dangerous times of your life?

If I'm going to stay on theme, I was at a dangerous moment in my life leading up to my fuck it moment. I got pretty close to swallowing the pill and accepting a lifestyle that my inner voice knew I would not like. Namely, I was trained with a masters in economics and I could have gotten a job analyzing data. 

Is there something you haven’t told someone in a long time

This year two men died that were important to me. The first was a father-type figure. I never explicitly told him how much I loved him and how much he meant to me. I'm starting to think maybe I should say these things to people I love. And maybe I should say them frequently. Why don't we all do this? 

What is your biggest struggle right now?

I did not treat my body very well for the last 2 years. I'm turning 30 in February and I'd like to feel like I'm in my prime. I'm one month into a new approach that seems to be working well. I give myself a couple options in the morning. One is to walk to the park and run if I feel like it once I'm there. The principle is based on enjoying nature rather than trying to better my mile time. The second option is to do 75 kettlebell swings. That's my bare minimum 6 days/week. Generally once I get going, I do more than the bare minimum. I add push ups, pull ups, presses, stretching, and foam rolling. For food I've gotten to the point  that all I have to do is listen to my body. It seems to know what I need most of the time. So far I'm down a belt loop. Two more to go. 

If you could teach a group of children one thing, what would it be?

I would teach them that the world only cares about what you can do for it. Learn a skill. Get good at that skill. All the other shit -- happiness, self-esteem, friends, income, life satisfaction, romantic partners, what have you, stem from a feeling of confidence in your abilities. Add value to the world and the world will give you a thumbs up. 

Describe your most memorable adventure as an adult.

I did two separate stints in Alaska on board commercial salmon fishing boats. Those stick out. But I don't feel like talking about them right now. Also, I think I've always defined adventure as going out into the unknown, usually underprepared. You know, you think something's going to be easy and then you get your ass handed to you. Adventure. I did that for a good 10 years.

But now I've been working on longer term goals and appreciating the simpler things in life so I'm going to tell a different story. When I moved to Brooklyn in 2011 one of my goals was to earn my captain's stripes on my family's 40' sail boat in Maine. My older brother had already achieved that status and was having a blast bringing his friends out. I wanted that so badly. 

In 2012 we went out together, just the two of us, on a 7 day trip. We didn't touch land the whole time. We sailed and sailed and sailed. I'd look over at him, happy as a pig in shit, and know that we were brothers in our element. It's wonderful how life gives you little moments like that with people -- moments when you realize how deeply bonded you are to them. You feel like you are in your most real, authentic state and then you look over and lo and behold, so are they. 

Throughout the trip my brother gave me instructions on things I was still weak on and then basically went off and took naps. I was frustrated and overwhelmed that he was doing so little work on board; I was doing just about everything. Then one day the fog set in and I was thinking, ok, finally ole Christopher will help out. Nope. He handed me the instruments, the chart, and the wheel and told me to do it all because that's what it takes to be captain. Fuck! I can't do that! He didn't give me an option. He just sort of meandered off and let me have a little hissy fit as I fumbled around with everything.  

Then a funny thing happened. About 10 minutes into my struggle and self doubt, I finally figured out how it all worked. I had a moment of clarity in which I finally knew that I knew my shit. I was glad to have that moment with my brother and I have been forever grateful to him for pushing me so hard.

If you had to recommend a favourite music album, what would it be?

Have you ever listened to all four movements of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9?

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