Designer Builds Career on Custom Design
authors Ashley Lapin Olian | April 3, 2017
AUSTIN, TX — It’s not often that a kitchen and bath designer gets to do a project in a castle. However, for designer Joe Currie of Austin, TX-based Capitol Design, that opportunity came when he was asked to design a custom space in the client’s modern interpretation of a castle.
Currie has made a living creating custom designs, both for furniture and for kitchens and other rooms. There are two memorable projects that stand out above the rest for him, and the first is an entertainment room that he designed in the basement of a client’s home that was made to resemble a castle.
“This guy was a major road builder or contractor – he was the CEO of a company in Ludlow, MA,” Currie says. “When I got to his house, which was way off the main road, it was made kind of like a castle – or what you’d think a castle [looks like]. You go in and he’s got these stone stairs and all this armor.”
The client wanted an entertainment room that was fit for a castle. Currie explained that, as far as he knew, castles weren’t exactly designed to be comfortable, so instead he created a room with a “Hollywood-style” version that included a home theater and wine cellar. He collaborated with a metal working company in Bridgeport, CT to draw schematics for light fixtures that looked like torches to hang on the walls. As per the client’s request, he also designed a fireplace mantle with gargoyles (in lieu of lions) and a tiled pentagram in the floor.
The other project that left an impression is a residential planetarium Currie designed for his client, whose brand new, 12,000-sq.-ft. French Country model home in Columbia, MD, was remodeled in the Arts and Craft style.
“I took out a French Country kitchen and put in an Arts and Crafts kitchen, and took out the traditional stairways and put in new stairways. I also changed all of the flooring out to cherry,” notes Currie. “Any Frank Lloyd Wright or [similar touch] I could do, I did in that house.”
Currie also incorporated a planetarium (approximately 12’x10′) modeled after the Palomar Observatory, as the client’s hobby was astronomy.
The client had purchase a motorized fiberglass dome similar to the one at the Palomar Observatory that he could open and close remotely from his phone. The foundation for the telescope was designed separately from the building foundation so that it wouldn’t be affected by any outside movement. The telescope itself was hooked up to a computer where the images were directly transferred and could even be streamed live.
Despite the home’s complete overhaul, the entire remodel only took about three months to complete. “There was so much work done on the front end to get everything picked out because they wanted to have it done before their kids went back to school,” says Currie. “It was incredible.”
A CUSTOM CAREER
Currie got into the design business by doing a favor for his sister; as he was naturally handy, his sister asked him to make a custom table for her home. After doing so, he got so many requests for custom furniture from people who saw the table that he figured he could begin charging for it. He opened a furniture shop in 1981 in his hometown of Memphis, TN, and was commissioned to make all sorts of objects, including wooden skis for a monoplane and custom roll top desks.
He eventually started moving more toward cabinets, fashioning the doors himself. One day, a man in a big panel truck dropped by and asked if Currie wanted to buy cabinet doors he had obtained from a local manufacturer. The doors were culls that didn’t meet the manufacturer’s standards, and the man was able to get them by the hundreds. He then sold them for about 50 cents apiece, which Currie would buy in bulk to use.
“I would stack them, buy them in different sizes and I started using that,” describes Currie. “That’s when I found that you could sell a table for $2,000 and work all month or you could sell a kitchen at that time for $5,000 and it would take you two days. I was an economics major in school and I thought, ‘This is the way to go.’”
His furniture shop turned into a cabinet shop, and the work kept on coming. However, Currie was not happy with his role as a shop owner, as it took away from his time designing and interacting with customers. He decided to sell the shop and, inspired by what he read in trade publications, chose to go down another path.
“I used to get [KBDN] and I would see all of these articles about kitchen dealers and designers,” says Currie. “And I thought, ‘Man, that’s what I would really like to do, just do the design work and deal with the customers.’”
He found job ads in the back of the magazine and he reached out to former KBDN columnists Alan Dresner and David Newton for advice. For most of his life, he had lived in the South, yet most of the jobs were in the Northeast, so he took a leap and in 1989, moved with his wife to Connecticut to work as a designer for a Wood-Mode dealer.
For the next two decades, Currie moved across the U.S. multiple times, stopping in St. Louis, going back to Connecticut, onto Maryland and finally settling in Austin, TX. His career also evolved from high-end cabinet design to working in a showroom, subcontracting and finally starting his current kitchen and bath design business, Capitol Design.
Currie was a latecomer to CAD – until 2010, he would only make designs by hand. “I remember, I was kind of the last holdout. I thought that you just can’t do the detail that you can do by hand,” explains Currie. “Yes, it’s unusual that I was one of the holdouts, and it’s probably because I was almost 50 when I was trying to learn this stuff – an ‘old guy’ trying to learn CAD.”
However, it was because of CAD that his family was able to move to Austin. They had always dreamed of going there – Currie’s mom was a Texan and his son wanted to attend the University of Texas at Austin – but it had always been difficult to make happen.
“I converted over to CAD and it was like I had a Eureka moment,” concludes Currie. “You could draw stuff, send it as a PDF file and work from anywhere. And I thought, ‘well this is fabulous.’ It is the technology that has allowed me to work from any place.” ▪