Hard Art

Metal Designer Thomas Ramey

Back Article Dec 1, 2013 By Kibkabe Araya

Sacramento has not been kind to Thomas Ramey, though he loves the city and hopes it will someday let him succeed. A Southern California transplant, he’s accustomed to clients who value his contemporary metal sculptures, modern architectural design elements and hand-fabricated furniture.

“I’d spent ten years working in L.A., and in two years of living here, I’m still getting all of my work from Malibu and Pacific Palisades. I’ve really not been able to land any work here at all,” he says.

It’s certainly not from a lack of talent.

Ramey was raised in Indianapolis where his dad, an engineer, developed IndyCar chassis. Ramey spent two years as an apprentice in an IndyCar garage, learning welding and metal fabrication. That led to a short career working on Honda motorcycles.

“I started getting bored with the people and the job,” he says. “So I started building furniture because I needed furniture and couldn’t find anything I liked. But every piece I made people would buy. Everyone loved my coffee tables and end tables, so I started selling them at little furniture stores and making more money than I was working on bikes.”

From there, he started getting offers to do bigger projects. He opened a studio and expanded his reach to Chicago. Among the commissioned projects was an offer from “an amazingly wealthy family” who had been searching for a metal artisan. Their multi-million-dollar home project resulted in two years of work for Ramey, including a 10-foot chandelier, sconces, exterior fixtures and five bedrooms worth of loft railings and ladder rails.

“I just kept coming up with designs, and they just kept saying, ‘Do it. We like it, we like it,’” he says.

In the early 2000s, Ramey set his sights on L.A. The timing was serendipitous. His friend, a fabricator of high-end furniture, sold the Discovery Channel the concept for a 2003 reality-show focused on building furniture out of used aircraft parts. Thomas was hired on as a metal worker for the 10-episode series, “Wing Nuts.” In 2005, the Discovery Channel called on Thomas to do another show, “Monster House,” which focused on residential remodels.

Everything was looking up.

“I had six or eight really good clients who were interior designers and architects in L.A.” he says. “But when 2008 rolled around, I lost about 75 percent of my clientele. I stuck around, but there was a year that I did zero work.”

So he and his fiancée moved to Sacramento, her hometown. 

“The world that I’ve existed in for so many years has kind of disappeared for a while. The only thing that’s saving me is my reoccurring private clients,” he says. “I like the pace of life here. I like that [Sacramento is] close to so many cool things. But what I do doesn’t seem to have a place here. If I can’t facilitate a direction for my work, I may be having to move.”


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