Making DIY empowering! Interview with Ben Uyeda from Homemade Modern

By Bronte Hogarth

Ben Uyeda is the creator behind Homemade Modern, a site of easy-to-follow DIY recipes for creating modern home goods. Ben wears many hats; along with developing his DIY projects, he is an award winning designer,  a lecturer and creates sustainable homes.

“If people start connecting the idea that making is empowering and aspirational, the DIY movement can transcend hobbyist niche to become a mainstream option”

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Tell us a bit about your story:

After studying architecture at Cornell University, I co-founded the architecture firm Zero Energy Design and worked with an amazing team of designers and engineers designing high performance homes.

It is a wonderful firm full of smart people and I am very proud of the projects we produce, but custom architecture is a high-end service and less than 1% of Americans will ever commission an architect to directly design their own home.  I am now experimenting with new business models that allow me to proactively create without relying on the patronage of clients. With FreeGreen.com and Homemade-Modern.com, I am trying to create financially sustainable models that support the consistent production and distribution of affordable design.

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Where do you see sustainability factoring into your work?

Sustainability is a moving target that creates questions not answers.  It is a wonderfully elusive and humbling aspiration to chase. A technology we think is sustainable today may turn to have undesirable consequences later on.

I tend to think that objects and buildings can’t be sustainable by their own physical merits but can reflect changing cultural values towards sustainability. If the furniture I create inspires people to take make more of the things that they own then I feel like I am contributing to progress.

Early in my career, sustainability challenged me to rethink what I was designing. Now it is challenging me to rethink who I am designing for.

I used to have heated discussions with my partners about which progressive technologies were the most sustainable. We would debate the technical minutia of different ecological considerations in search of the optimal combination.  These days I am less intrigued by the technical challenge of integrating the latest materials and techniques than I am the cultural challenges of getting people to adopt some of the progressive ideas that have existed for quite some time.

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What are your thoughts on the changes of how and where people are buying their furniture from? Are you noticing any trends in the field of sustainability and DIY?

We can all make and we can all benefit from making:  financially, health-wise, and creatively.

For me, DIY is not about arts and crafts so much as it is about self-determinism.

I see the growing interest in dietary trends related to health and philosophical beliefs as a positive indication that there could be a desire to allow ones ideas to dictate other types consumption.

We can choose to eat vegetarian, but could we also choose to live it?  What would the gluten-free equivalent be for furniture? Would it be formaldehyde-free? Vinyl-free?

I have friends who have adopted a raw paleo diet and like the idea of furniture made form raw materials like organic hemp fabrics and unfinished wood.  They want to make their own furniture and would rather let the furniture get nicked & stained than coat it with plastic or varnish.

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What do you see as the benefits for these trends?

The benefit of these trends is that they are tapping into ideals for consumption to which we can all aspire.

If people start connecting the idea that making is empowering and aspirational, the DIY movement can transcend hobbyist niche to become a mainstream option for minimizing interaction with companies of mass-production and overseas imports like Wal-Mart.

I am not interested in adding new chores to busy people’s lives, but rather provide access to otherwise unaffordable goods.  I am interested in aspirational consumption as the motivation for DIY not coupon clipping and penny pinching.

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Do you have any tips you have for 1 Million Women about living a more sustainable lifestyle through our consumption choices?

Make more of the things you own – and do it in groups! Share tools, pool your resources to buy discounted materials in bulk, and use ethically created components and materials so that you can be proud of your creations.

Get a few friends together and make something this weekend.

Check out Ben Uyeda at…

Homemade Modern 

Zero Energy

Twitter: @benuyeda

We are daughters, mothers, sisters and grandmothers getting on with practical climate action to live better for us and the planet. Join the movement at www.1millionwomen.com.au