Will Humphrey

PHOTOS BY JOKICHI MATSUBARA
STORY BY HISYAM TAKIUDIN

visit WILL's shop

“I’ve never told anyone about this before”, Will assured at the end of our interview. Composed, confident and seemingly approachable, I was not expecting to have heard what I did during our 20-odd minutes together.

Will refinishes furniture under a business he calls Ch∆IRS –an essentially one-man powered initiative. It’s fairly new; he started the business this summer, originally just “going to town with it”. His initial investment was on several chairs, dressers and tables –which were vintage finds at Savers, a thrift shop in Providence he quoted to have a “poppin’ furniture section”.

All this happened while he was living in a small 3-bedroom apartment (yes, with two others), so it was pretty much “an episode of Antiques Roadshow” with all the furniture around. He then locked himself in for a whole week to work on them, stressing that each piece of furniture has its own character, and therefore should be inspired from, not inspired onto. Basically, he simply improvises on what he has, “refinishing” them via external aesthetics.

When asked, he reasoned all of this as an answer to his craving for “celebrating the intersection of all of [his] interests”. True enough, one wouldn’t expect someone as enthusiastically artistic as Will to also be a senior on the pre-med track studying Health and Human Biology at Brown University

About halfway into our conversation, it was then made clear to me that Will was once a foster child; jumping homes and moving towns was the norm until seventh grade. This particular aspect, he noted, had been crucial in how Ch∆IRS came to be. The idea of being a foster child more often than not translates into ‘instability’, and that is what Will largely felt growing up. He walked into doors of “way too many middle schools” and inevitably, varied environments also led to varied interests. It just so happens that one of those turned out to be interior design.  

“My apartment looked pretty much like an episode of Antiques Roadshow with all the furniture around”

This specific interest goes way back, and intertwines Will’s own bumpy childhood. To make the places and the many rooms he lived in “feel more homey”, he spent a lot of time decorating them. His decorations were inspired from shows he watched on HGTV - the kind that devotes to Martha-Stewart-esque programs. He credited the channel to have made him obsessed with colors and thinking about space in new ways .

Ch∆IRS came from the culmination of all these factors in his life. It is two-fold in the sense that on top of being a refinishing business, Ch∆IRS also serves as a constant reminder of his struggles growing up. An interesting feature is that most of his pieces are branded with a simple triangle on them, representing the concept of stability that he could not grasp as a foster child. 

A few months in the business now, Ch∆IRS has been positively received -- positive enough that Will is confident a scholarship fund can be set-up for aspiring college students who had gone through similar experiences in foster care. The fund is a collaborative effort with an acquaintance (currently at Stanford), who was also a former foster child. Will expects this to be launched in 2017.

Having explained to me all that, I couldn't help but feel moved - no less on the noble act he is pursuing, but much more on the fact that he told me all this without ever taking off the smile on his face. And that says a lot.