Ben PetersenOct 11, 2016 06:00AM ● By Garrett Sass
Ben Petersen has always been good with his hands. Growing up on the family farm in Exira, Iowa, Petersen spent a lot of time watching his father work with his hands to create beautiful pieces that also served a purpose. “Dad was always making something,” Petersen says with a smile, “but it had to be practical.”
It’s that commitment to quality that inspires the furniture that Petersen makes today. “I built my first stool when I was 12, and for my birthday, my parents gave me a small workshop of my own. I have been making furniture ever since.”
That small workshop in Iowa was the start. He now operates a large co-working space for other creatives, builders, and business owners in Omaha’s North Downtown District. Bench—founded by Petersen in 2012—offers hobbyists and professional makers a collaborative environment, equipment, and space to practice their trade.
Bench feels like a place where the past and present intersect. If you enter through the front door and walk up the narrow stairway, you will notice the exposed brick, the cracks in the concrete floor, and the smell of sawdust. After signing in on an iPad that notifies Petersen of your arrival, you will hear someone walking up an old wooden staircase. You will be greeted by the most impressive beard this side of the Missouri River. The building is also home to Petersen’s TimberSmith Goods.
“Every part of our furniture is functional. We take a great deal of pride in the furniture we create for customers and local businesses.”
TimberSmith Goods grew out of PhilipDesignLab, a custom furniture company that Petersen had established in 2009. TimberSmith Goods consists of a small team of furniture makers and craftsmen who specialize in Danish-inspired, hand-hewn goods. Much of the wood used in their furniture is locally sourced and milled at the family sawmill in Exira, Iowa.
Petersen, Kyle Petersen (custom furniture lead), Adam Findley (project manager), and Matt Williams (shop assistant) use traditional methods and time-tested joinery to make furniture out of hardwoods like cherry, walnut, and oak. Their designs are intended to be handsome, timeless, and practical.
“Every part of our furniture is functional,” Petersen says. “We take a great deal of pride in the furniture we create for customers and local businesses.” Like the Paul Lounge Chair, named after Petersen’s dad. “Dad had a tough time getting out of a chair I created, so I made him the Paul Lounge Chair. It sits higher and was much easier on Dad’s back.”
Or the Draper Sideboard, named after Don Draper of Mad Men. “It reminds me of furniture from that time period—around the mid-20th century. And because I like Mad Men,” Petersen explains.
Petersen and his team’s intense commitment to detail is obvious in each piece. Around town, their work is on display in the form of three gorgeous tables for The Market House Restaurant, and they made cabinets, desks, and credenzas for the KANEKO. But their work doesn’t just stay in Omaha.
TimberSmith’s Etsy page is full of five-star reviews and satisfied customers from all corners of the country who applaud Petersen’s work. Every custom project is an opportunity for Petersen and his team to express their creativity doing something they all love. For Petersen, furniture-making is all he’s ever known. It’s a skill he learned from his dad, who was taught by his dad. At 12, he started with a stool. And now, Petersen has his Bench.
“These last couple years have been a whirlwind,” he says with a laugh.