If you’ve ever dug into a cheese board at Talula’s Garden in Philly or hung out over a cup of coffee at Brew Ha Ha in Trolley Square in Wilmington, DE, then you’re already familiar with the beautiful millwork of Andrew McKnight and his student army. Andrew McKnight is a Philadelphia resident and founder + director of the Challenge Program, a Delaware based furniture production company centered around craftsmanship education for kids between 18 + 21. His latest endeavor, CP Furniture, has taken it to another level and we sat down to learn all about the furniture.
hg: what were you doing before the Challenge Program + CP Furniture?
andrew: I went to school for Zoology and Marine Biology, and I was doing research at Penn, which is how I ended up here in Philly. I started building boats at the Independence Seaport Museum and set up a program in Philly for city kids to learn how to build a wooden boat and row it on the Delaware.
hg: were you always interested in craftsmanship?
andrew: when I was in college I did a lot of Outward Bound stuff which ties into craftsmanship—there's an odd intersection between the wooden boat world and the Outward Bound world. That’s why I got interested in boat building—it was that and my interest in environmentalism and urbanism…
“…and the combination of wooden boats and urbanism—and so creating the Challenge Program was a way to bring it all together.”
hg: what was the inspiration behind CP Furniture?
andrew: it’s sort of a social entrepreneur program because the Challenge Program is designed to be a construction company—kids are working on paying jobs. We needed to step up our game to earn money for the organization and not continue to try and raise money. We wanted to actually make our operating cost through the jobs we we’re doing. We have this great workshop, all this wood, and we began to make furniture for restaurants. So, that is sort of how we got here…
hg: what restaurants gave you your start?
andrew: Talula’s [Garden] was our first. I was a huge Django fan (editor's note: us too!), and when she (Aimee Olexy) moved out to Kennett (with Talula’s Table), we did one of their farm tables. My friend Rich, a House Industries guy, and I would bike there for lunch once a week. We became friendly with Aimee, and since she was about to open a restaurant in Center City she asked if we could build the tables for her. It took off from there.
hg: we’ve actually featured Aimee on our blog, too. How was it working with her?
andrew: oh, she’s the best! She gets a lot of credit for where we are today. She pushed through the Challenge Program to work on a Starr Restaurant, and she was into the ideas and wacky things we did. Once Talula’s Garden opened we started getting calls.
hg: it seems like Delaware is very close knit—was there a Delawarean that also helped to contribute to CP Furniture's launch?
“They taught me long ago how important branding and good design is—even for a non-profit like mine. It really makes a difference.”
They’ve been seriously influential. Carlos has been taking pictures and I’ve put those on the website which puts us in a whole new place. To have logos designed by House and pictures by Carlos makes us a whole different thing than other non-profits.
hg: so, what’s up next for CP furniture?
andrew: well we’re installing a Design Philly installation in collaboration with Scout, the people that did Bok (Le Bok Fin), on Pearl St. called "Pearl Street Passage" where the Reading Viaduct is. We’re part of a team making a curated exhibit. We've also done store fixtures for fashion label Rag and Bone, and then honeygrow, we hope!
hg: what do you do in your free time?
andrew: my wife and I have been rehabbing our house for about ten years (laughs). We have two kids so I spend a lot of time doing sports with them and that pretty much takes every minute I have. They’re 10 and 12 so I’ve got to take advantage of the time they want me around (laughs).
The students and staff at CP Furniture + the Challenge Program have a pretty extensive millwork portfolio, check it out here...and here! And be sure to visit Pearl Street Passage to see their work as part of Design Philadelphia 2015!