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Ontario Wood Profile: Rong Designs

Posted: March 2, 2017

March 8th is International Women’s Day and Forests Ontario is celebrating by sharing stories from “women in wood,” professionals and leaders whose work has supported sustainable forest management and creative use of forest resources across the province.

Below, Jennifer Rong, the mastermind behind Rong Designs, talks about her unconventional path to woodworking and love of discarded wood.

Jennifer Rong, owner of Rong Designs and lover of discarded wood.

Throughout her life, Jennifer Rong has found creativity in random places. As the creative talent behind Ontario Wood partner Rong Designs, her next project could just as well emerge from a trip to the grocery store as it might from a specific request from a customer. In Jennifer’s words, she has on more than one occasion, “felt inspired by random pieces of wood.”

It’s a process that Jennifer refers to as “upcycling,” taking pieces that would at first glance be considered junk and “elevating its value,” whether it’s an ottoman made from a discarded bucket, a coat rack made from a randomly found guitar neck, or a vase made from a chunk of wood that she came across on Toronto’s Cherry Beach that she simply had to have. It’s something that the rest of us may take for granted, but Jennifer thrives on the fact that wherever she goes, “There’s so much discarded wood!” It’s a fortunate fact for someone who loves live edge as Jennifer does.

Jennifer’s unconventional approach is the culmination of an unconventional path to woodworking. Originally a graphic designer, she had no intention of becoming an artisan, much less working with wood. It just so happened that in her capacity as a designer, Jennifer was working with Cottage Life Magazine.

Her interest in woodworking was piqued at Cottage Life conferences and shows which featured workshop areas where attendees could learn and create and where Jennifer began making small items like wine holders. For the time, she continued with her office job, but continued to develop her skills and passion for wood by making small furniture.

The interest was enough for Jennifer to eventually take her interest to the next level by pursuing carpentry training through a vocational program available from the Toronto District School Board. The program offered five to six months of training, after which participants were eligible to join the union. Jennifer realized that the renovation and building work offered through the union still wasn’t quite for her, offering little creative potential.

What mattered in the long run was that the carpentry program gave Jennifer a strong understanding of the fundamentals of

Jennifer’s live edge maple office chair.

woodworking that could be translated into more creative ventures. That’s one key piece of advice she would offer anyone with an interest in woodworking. Understanding the processes behind creating a piece out of raw materials isn’t something one can necessarily learn entirely on their own, especially with no previous exposure, which is why Jennifer advocates for finding some sort of mentorship, whether through a formal program or shadowing an experienced artisan.

Following her brief foray into traditional carpentry, Rong Designs officially started in 2013 when Jennifer started an Etsy shop and held her first open house to showcase her creations. For the first two years, she continued freelancing as a graphic designer until Rong Designs began to take-off and stand on its own.

Being an independent artisan can be difficult. It’s not just a matter of constantly finding new ideas for projects and bringing them to fruition, but also being your own promoter. Ontario Wood is an important asset for Jennifer in this regard, allowing her to connect to new audiences through trade shows. At these shows, Ontario Wood also provides photographers to best capture her work, allowing Jennifer to use the images to continually promote herself.

As a woman who grew up in the city without an immediate connection to woodworking, Jennifer says that with programs like Ontario Wood and opportunities to access shared “maker spaces” throughout the city, there are opportunities for young women to find their way into woodworking on their own terms and bring their own perspective to woodworking the way she has.