Interview with Kevin and Riley of Project Sunday

@ KÜHL DIY / Craft Interviews Social By Sam Brown

KÜHL chats with Project Sunday, a furniture and design studio based in Salt Lake City, to learn about the artistry of their craft.

Written by Sam Brown. All photos by Butch Adams.

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Project Sunday is a furniture and design studio based in Salt Lake City. They weave their expertise in woodworking with a sharp eye for design to bring not just furniture, but entire rooms to life. Bound by a passion to resurrect the soul of their craft, they seek to enrich their clients’ lives with furniture and interior design that inspires the next generation.

Project Sunday

Handmade furniture is artwork that occupies a curious niche, one where wear and tear on the art piece doesn’t detract from its beauty, but adds to it. Each mark that adorns the piece is a testament to time. This furniture adds value to people’s lives—it’s practical, utilitarian, comfortable.

Over the decades this appreciation has waned, lost to layers of plywood, saw dust, formaldehyde and glue. To resurrect this craft demands a diverse skillset. To call it your day job to support yourself or your family takes courage.

There’s an inherent risk when artists decide to make a living from their art. The beautiful narrative of life in the studio making art and living life free of stress and anxiety is an illusion.

Part-time artists dream of leaving their day jobs to pursue their passions. But what if your dream doesn’t pay enough to make ends meet? Fulltime artists deserve more credit. Their hard work is eclipsed by the assumption since they’re doing what they love, every day is bliss, funky Spotify playlists and laughter.

When a group of talented men and women see the value of their work beyond a paycheck, a force is created—a whirlwind of rebels who possess the talent, grit and determination to do what they love, despite the risks.

Making art for a living demands a delicate balance between passion and skill, spreadsheets and determination - meet Project Sunday.

Before the Business

Project Sunday is a custom furniture and design studio based in Salt Lake City. It is owned by Kevin Jateff with Riley Ridd behind the wheel as the lead designer.

Before it was a business, Kevin’s childhood friend Jordan Omohundro would use his free time on Sundays to build furniture from salvaged wood. Jordan was a talented creative who did some woodworking on the side. He began building exhibits at the Children’s Discovery Museum and using his free time to build furniture in the museum’s well-equipped shop. With access to proper woodworking equipment, he was able to develop the skills they needed to hone his craft and nurture his vision.

His work caught the eye of Riley Ridd, an interior designer who was working on a restaurant remodel in Park City. She hired him to help with the custom furniture pieces and architectural elements for the project. This project gave them him the confidence and funds he needed to file for a business license and set up his own shop.

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Stretched with managing the business and interacting with clients as his woodworking business took off, he lured Kevin from Missouri to SLC. Fresh out of college with a degree in finance, Kevin was a perfect fit.

The business slowly evolved as the intrepid friends navigated the turbulent waters of starting a new venture.

Things picked up. They began to focus their attention on detail and let the unique quality of their work speak for itself. The birth of their own company gave them the freedom to create —to do what they wanted, how they wanted.

But it’s not always easy. Soon came the challenges of managing clients and the day to day running of a business. Fortunately, the lure of their growing brand and reputation meant that there was always a steady flow of fresh talent joining the shop to keep the business moving forward with new skills and energy. Eventually, Riley was brought on as the demand for design grew with their work.

Lead Designer | Riley Ridd

Riley has now been at Project Sunday for 8 years as the lead designer. Her background takes the meandering path of a true artist, one who sees inspiration everywhere. Her diverse history in business management, art and adventure was ideal for keeping Project Sunday’s evolving work process, client base and creative requirements on track.

She’s worn many hats over the years including backpacking guide, cattle rancher, sculptor, interior designer, home builder/designer and she even co-founded a holistic health clinic.

Her passion is spatial design. Her main interest is the flow and energy of a space and is an expert at making a room work with the client and guests, not just for them. She uses metal, plaster and wood to enhance the details of her vision and bring these spaces to life.

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Thanks to Riley’s skillsets and Project Sunday’s willingness to push the envelope, they have the ability to transform rooms—not just lumber—into functional pieces of art. Whether it’s working to transform an office, restaurant or living room, Project Sunday is a creative force.

Riley brings her passion to every jobsite, eager to listen and understand each client, looking for opportunities to inject her creativity.

Owner | Account Manager | Kevin Jateff

Even expertly crafted wood furniture doesn’t sell itself. Running a profitable business isn’t easy. Throw in passionate artists, high material costs and even higher labor costs and you get a juggling act.

This is where Kevin’s strengths shine and are what has helped the company get to where it is today. He’s a great middleman between the client and the woodshop. People buying custom artwork need to know they’re heard and their needs are understood.

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Kevin isn’t just in the business to make furniture. He is a student of the process, always looking for ways to improve the systems he has in place. Both KÜHL and Kevin use this principle—never settling for less and constantly tweaking the process to develop the best product or workflow to guide their vision. Whether it’s using 3D renderings, diving into the finishing science or developing vendor relationships, Kevin is a master student, always eager and willing to learn.

Beyond the client relationships Kevin focuses his creativity on developing administrative and inter-business systems to increase efficiently. Riley credits Kevin’s obsession with this process as the reason Project Sunday is still around.

The Process and Beyond

The custom aspect of every project presents many challenges. Setting expectations is important in a world where anyone can order a $200 coffee table online and have it delivered to their door in a week. That coffee table, thanks to modern technology and materials, will look the same for a few years. It won’t warp, crack, chip or fade.

Project Sunday works with materials that are natural and far from perfect. They know this, but their clients must be taught and reminded. Solid wood absorbs and releases moisture over time. The speed of this process depends on the season, climate and species of wood. Over time wood can crack, cup, twist and warp. The skill of a woodworker is knowing how to anticipate these changes with each wood species and work with them.

Combine this with the time it takes to build many of their pieces, and you’re left with an even more complex equation on how to make a living and keep your clients happy. It takes transparency and understanding clients. There’s a reason why Project Sunday has many returning customers.; they deliver on what they promise.

Using local and domestic materials Project Sunday molds their client’s vision into what will become much more than just a piece of furniture. They use alder, walnut, oak, maple and hickory to create long lasting pieces inspired by the landscape around them. Kevin has no doubt that Salt Lake City has helped shape Project Sunday into what it has become. The mountain backdrop and seasonal changes are very appealing to him, and it’s also what helps him cultivate his creativity.

Taking a Break

The reason Project Sunday is a thriving business goes well beyond the skilled shop floor and the hard work behind glowing computer screens. An artist who only thinks about their work all day, every day can be a tortured artist. It takes intention to separate yourself from your work, but it is a necessary discipline.

Kevin sets very strict boundaries around his work and he expects the same for his employees. This helps him change gears whether he’s leading a team of creatives, riding motorcycles or communicating with clients. He recognizes the need for time to zoom out and focus on the beauty of the process—to appreciate the woods they’re working with, the trees that grew them and remember that what Project Sunday is doing is really unique and he's grateful to be where he is today.

Moving Forward

While Riley and Kevin wrangle clients, ideas and visions, their goal to remain an independent and successful furniture and design studio never changes. To accommodate the constantly changing ecosystem of lumber prices, equipment needs, shop space and employees, they’re always thinking outside the box.

Kevin’s goal is to find the financial resources to develop a facility that can be even more efficient and profitable. The barrier for entry into a space with the equipment, square footage and resources to operate as a highly efficient and profitable custom furniture shop is high. Finding passionate and skilled employees adds a layer of complexity. Organic cash flow to invest in these systems is hard to come by.

His focus never changes; an obsession with quality and an attitude to never settle for less. His employees are masters of the material and craft, and under his stewardship with Riley’s passion for design there are no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

To see work examples head over to Project Sunday’s website and follow along on their Instagram – @project_sunday.

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Sam Brown
Sam lives on a few acres in northern Michigan with his wife. Together, they seek a life bound by grace, adventure, and a love for new experiences. He writes for the wild lands he roams and the inspiring people that call these places home.