AURORA | Ethan Hutchinson would be a good pick for the Aurora Cultural Arts District’s poster boy.
Sporting a pair of thick, tortoise shell frame glasses and a particularly ashen mane of salt-and-pepper hair, Hutchinson is the prototype for the kind of person many local leaders want to see flocking to Aurora’s arts hub off of East Colfax Avenue.
“Having an artist and craftsman of Ethan’s caliber … is a huge asset,” said Tracy Weil, managing director of the ACAD. “It’s our goal to attract like-minded artists to our creative district.”
For over 21 years, Hutchinson was a Denver-based professional woodworker and furniture maker, and produced one-of-a-kind tables, chairs and just about anything else that can be crafted out of wood and fit in a home for clients across the country.
But two years ago, Hutchinson ditched his former workshop on Fox Street in Denver for new, cheaper digs in Aurora. After seeing industrial rents leap from less than $1 per square foot to more than $15 per square foot in Denver, he said he heeded the advice of a friend in the City of Aurora’s Planning and Development Services office to check out what the city had to offer.
“Every inch of available space in Denver in terms of warehouse, funky spaces often used by artists, is gone — it’s a grow house or a dispensary,” Hutchinson said. “For fabricators like me, there really was nothing left in Denver, so I spent a couple months driving around looking for properties and eventually found this one.”
The industrial vacancy rate across the metro area sits at a paltry 3.1 percent, according to the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, a number nearly one percentage point lower than it was a year ago. On top of meager industrial vacancies, rent in Denver’s booming RiNo Art District shot up 16 percent between 2014 and 2015 alone, according to commercial real estate site LoopNet.
Since moving his business to an old garage just half a block from the bustle of East Colfax Avenue, Hutchinson has established himself as a bastion of the eclectic north Aurora community. He explained that in the two years he’s been in his new location on Chester Street he’s seen market forces spawned out of the Anschutz Medical Campus to the east and Denver’s Congress Park neighborhood to the west push a cultural and artistic hurricane into the heart of the ACAD.
“Right now, the cycle for artists is you get one or two kind of outliers, and they’re out here for a couple of years, and then all of sudden other people start looking around,” he said. “And it’ll happen out here, it’s just going to take bit longer.”
Hutchinson decided to pursue woodworking full time nearly a quarter century ago after spending his first four years in the workforce as an analytical chemist. He said a lack of passion for his work and inability to work intimately with his hands was what drove him to a life forever coated in sawdust.
“I was pretty unhappy (as a chemist) and I kept gravitating towards wanting to fix stuff or build things, so I sort of just started building chairs in my spare time to try and stay sane,” he said.
Specializing in domestic hardwoods such as maple, cherry and walnut and selling handcrafted pieces for more than $6,000, Hutchinson said that his career path is a far cry from his childhood aspirations. The son of an artist and architect, he said that his childhood outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico was the archetype of the starving artist — something that turned him off to ever pursuing a career in the arts.
“By the time I was in the eighth grade I told myself that I was never ever, ever, ever, going to be in this kind of creative field — ever,” he said. “I thought that I was going to get a degree, get a day job, get paid every two weeks, and have health insurance and vision insurance. And I guess if I were to tell myself then what I am now, I would be proud of myself because I’ve had the determination to do it.”
That’s not to say it’s been an easy path. Hutchinson said he frequently warns young artisans about the difficulties of pursuing full-time what is considered by many to be a hobby, and that uncertain financial success, long, tedious hours and competition from corporations are all reasons many furniture makers have gone by the wayside.
“Being a self-employed craftsperson is really difficult,” he said. “I’ve never, ever had a day where I’ve thought that I really don’t want to do this, but I’ve had many, many days thinking how am I going to get this all done or how am I going to get paid? But just the fact that I’m still standing, relatively, I know that I am really, really blessed.”
1549 Chester St.
Aurora, CO 80010