Building a Business

January 2024 View more

By Web Behrens

Naperville woodworker designs custom furniture

Ray Brents
Ray Brents

A decade ago, when Ray Brents graduated from Indiana’s Franklin College with a degree in journalism, carving out a career in carpentry was not on his to-do list.

But life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans—and these days, the 32-year-old Naperville resident owns his own furniture design business. “I didn’t come out of college saying I’m going to be a woodworker,” Brents says—although it’s a craft that comes naturally to him. He learned at a very young age how to handle saws and drills, taught by his handyman grandfather and great-grandfather. Eventually his artist’s passion became his vocation, and he officially launched Ray Brents Design in 2018.

A table designed by Ray Brents

Initially, he built his business in his hometown of Indianapolis, with clients finding him from as far away as Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Chicago. It was in Hyde Park in 2019 that life took another surprise turn: He’d set up a woodwork booth at the Silver Room Block Party, an annual street festival celebrating Black culture and community, and that’s where he met his future wife, Morgan Abercrombie, who then lived in Chicago.

The couple moved to Naperville last May. “We had a long-distance relationship for a while,” Brents says. “Naperville was a happy medium for us, in terms of affordability and having shop space.” (He uses their two-car garage as his shop by day, although he admits his wife’s car gets to come inside at night.) Another reason for choosing Naperville: “There are a lot of nature preserves and parks out here, which really attracted me. Being outdoors, fishing, golfing—those are things I really enjoy.”

A dining table designed by Ray Brents

Of course, coming to Illinois meant starting entirely new professional relationships. “I had to shop around, honestly. But I enjoy the process of going to other local businesses,” Brents says. He was happy to discover Meyers Lumber in Batavia as a new source of hardwood for the dining tables, nightstands, and cabinets he creates.

Since the move, the craftsman has spent a good chunk of time networking in addition to actual building. He got in touch with other local businesses after looking up their Instagram pages, which is how he ended up constructing new shelves for Yogi’s Café (2959 Artesian Rd., Naperville). That connection, in turn, led him to another local client, who commissioned a recent project: a five-foot-long, three-tiered bar cart, made of walnut. “Aesthetically, my favorite wood would be walnut,” he says. “It’s a very rich, dark wood with lots of character.”

A table designed by Ray Brents

Beyond the furniture, Brents is branching out into creating sculptural wall art. He recently designed a piece for his new home, a two-by-two-foot wooden square with geometric designs carved into it. “I really love how it fills up the space on the wall,” he says. “So that’s something I want to venture into now.”

Brents says the total time for a project such as a standard-size dining table, from initial contact through completion, is eight or nine weeks. Depending on materials and design, such a table and two benches cost about $2,550. A pair of end tables runs about $400; charcuterie boards range from $35 to $95. He fields queries and commissions through his website,


Photos: Ray Brents Design