Lansing Artisan Goes Against The Grain
From the time he was about 15 years old, against the Grain
(atG) owner Jay Belous knew that he wanted to be an artist and a carpenter. Now, some 20 years later, his love for wood-working and design is his life force ... and a passion he wants to share with others.
“I do this because it’s the only thing I can do,” Jay says. “It’s who I am through and through. No matter what happens, this is where I always come back to. I’m overly passionate about this craft.”
A Craftsman is Born
A born and raised Michigander from Fenton, Jay started his sustainable design company about 10 years ago, after realizing that construction management wasn’t the answer for melding his passions. “I got burned out really quick,” he says.
One problem was that there was no room for growth. “I wanted to do things the way I thought they should be done and continue to learn at the same time.”
That’s when experimentation and self-teaching became his path. When I started making furniture, everyone kept telling me I was doing everything wrong. People said, ‘you can’t build furniture that way.’ But I did, and it worked.”
It was then that he started thinking about how he could start a company where he could do something really creative that no one else was doing. That’s how atG was born.
The Road to Sustainability
“The sustainable piece started mostly out of necessity,” says Jay. He had no money and had to figure out a way to get the materials he needed.
So he found people who owned old structures they no longer wanted, and tearing down old barns and other buildings became part of atG’s story. “It was free wood, it was beautiful and solid, and it could be repurposed beautifully,” he says. So he pushed that concept with every job he did.
In addition to reusing materials, atG uses as many environmentally friendly products as possible. They do a lot of oil-based, hand-rubbed finishes and use other organic products, too.
“We listen to people’s needs and educate them about what they're getting and how it will perform,” Jay says. “We work hard to push people out of their comfort zone when it comes to what they expect.”
From Green to Local
Today, atG has a very specific way of looking at sustainability. “It’s about keeping everything local,” says Jay. “If you start drawing a square around your business of, let’s say, 50 miles, and you try to create and build everything out of that 50 miles, the economy tends to respond to that. Building one countertop here can affect the lives of a lot of people.”
Jay’s 50 mile philosophy is what eventually brought the business into Old Town after several years of working out of the Birmingham/West Bloomfield area. That was a little over two years ago, and the business has grown
considerably since he first opened his studio space.
A key piece to that growth has been the result of forming partnerships and building relationships with fellow area artisans and business owners. “The artists, we’re really a tight knit group. We’re pretty stuck together,” says Jay.
Now atG is getting ready to expand again, this time to do something quite a bit bigger that will reach deeper into the community and offer opportunities for learning, sharing and celebrating artisanship.
Building a Dream
Jay has long dreamed of bringing together people who are passionate about fine craft and utilitarian arts and then developing a way to foster other businesses that are craft and art related.
The goal is to create a space where people can have their own studios but can also teach and start offering young people the opportunity to grow in the arts, since schools don’t offer those kinds of classes anymore.
“Schools are supposed to be about finding your path, but they don’t offer industrial arts anymore — there’s not metal-working, there’s no wood-working. We’ve kind of taken that choice away in exchange for test scores and dollar bills.” He notes that the arts can provide a very viable living, especially for those who are passionate about it and do it well.
“I did art as part of how I grew up,” says Jay. “Then I saw these guys building houses in my neighborhood, and I thought they were the coolest people ever.” If wood-shopping and drafting hadn’t existed in my school, this life would never have happened for me.”
A Sharing Community
And so, the plan for a new space is now firmly in motion — one universal place where people can get everything they need for a project: landscaping, hardware, sinks, countertops, lights, and it’s all provided by local artists. But that’s not all. It needs to be a place where people can also come to share and learn a craft.
“We need to be more accessible and open so people can see us and what we do,” says Jay. “We need a place where we can showcase our work and share what we know.”
For Jay and the artists he works with, the key is conscious design —being aware of what they’re building with and who they’re building for. The end goal is about bettering people’s lives and making the people they work with feel good about their choice.
“If we build a larger community of artists and designers that are functioning on the same spiritual or social thinking, people will come to it,” says Jay. “It’s about creating relationships and art that has a story and an attachment that everyone shares in.”
Dawn Gorman is a freelance writer for Capital Gains.
is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Jay Belous in his shop, tools and views of the shop and atG crafted doors installed at the new NEO Center.
Photos © Dave Trumpie