Written by ANNA BITONG
A trip to a Santa Barbara winery inspired Michael Weisberg to embark on a second career, something about as unrelated to his 23 years as a banker as it could possibly be.
“My wife thought I was kind of crazy at first,” he says, remembering she told him, “You don’t have enough time right now. . . . How are you going to do this?”
Though his work at Lend to America, which does in-house financing for ReMax Olson, kept him busy, he was not discouraged.
While at the winery, Michael had seen photos of Adirondack chairs—simple, wooden outdoor chairs—made of wine barrels.
“I said, ‘I can do that, I can make those,’” Michael, 45, remembers. “I bought five or six wine barrels and said, ‘I’m going to try this.’”
It took him 10 hours to design the first chair, but he was hooked. He completed four chairs, which he has in his backyard.
“I’ve always loved woodworking,” he says. “It brought me back to memories of childhood and grade school when they used to have woodworking classes.” Michael’s handcrafted chairs drew rave reviews from family and friends, so he opened Zin Chair, named after Zinfandel wine.
And the risk paid off—in two years Michael’s business has grown, with help from the food and wine festivals where he showcases his furniture for admiring crowds.
In February, Michael moved Zin Chair from Westlake Village to Newbury Park, near where he lives with his wife,
The retail and online store sells a variety of outdoor furniture, such as stools, benches and tables that feature built-in fire pits, as well as smaller indoor items like lazy Susans, clocks and candleholders, all made of reclaimed oak wine barrels from various wineries throughout California.
Michael works in his showroom with Juan Mata, a master carpenter with 25 years of experience.
They make the furniture to order and most items are ready in two to three weeks. The fire pit tables with matching stools take about four weeks.
The two work together on every piece of furniture, and Michael continues to work full time as a banker.
“I probably need to get a therapist,” Michael jokes. “It’s challenging to juggle two jobs and do both well. But ultimately it also helps to support an employee at the company, Juan. He’s able to survive and make a living through this as well.”
The pair customizes size, color and other features of their furniture for each order. “The pieces are unique to everyone. You’re not going to Costco or Ikea and going to your neighbor’s house and seeing the same thing.”
Zin’s Adirondack chairs have armrests, footstools and triangle-shaped backs, the last a feature he says nobody else is doing.
The goal was to make a chair that “looks good, but obviously . . . was very comfortable and functional.”
Since that first set of chairs he has made adjustments to his design five times while refining his craft.
“Everything has been tweaked a little bit to where we are now. This is really the end product.”
Michael’s second job has helped him to relieve stress and allowed him to explore his creative side, he says.