Deep Dive With Our Frame Supplier
At Pressed Floral, we work closely with a professional frame maker, Kheng, who articulately crafts each of our frames. He provides us with gorgeous handmade frames and high-quality glass. He is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, we are very fortunate to work so closely with him. This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with him to ask more about his life, background, and woodworking process.
It’s a normal day at Pressed Floral. Kheng is on his way to us with an order of frames loaded in his car. He walks into the shop smiling and is greeted with ecstatic shouts of his name. His face lights up as he says hello to everyone and goes upstairs to update Sarah on a new project they’re working on (antique gold frames). We unload his car for him while he’s meeting with our boss. After, we sit down to talk a little more about Kheng and his life. I have a list of questions ready but am also prepared for him to take the reins and tell me all about his business.
I start the interview by asking him to introduce himself.
“So, my name is Kheng. I'm from Malaysia. I have been in Utah since 2013 for school. I went to school for art and I learned framing while I was a student because I couldn't afford framing. So I had to learn how to make my own stuff. And then after school, it was just a way for me to pay the bills. And now I've discovered that I really enjoy it.”
“I have a five-year-old daughter. She is in the studio pretty often helping me clean up. She cleans up and I give her a couple of dollars.” He smiles, “But the business is a part of her life in the sense that she knows what I'm doing. When I go buy materials, she's oftentimes with me and so she has some familiarity with framing.”
I nod and ask my next question. When did you start your actual framing business?
“2018. So after school, I worked at a frame shop. No, sorry. After school, I worked at a cabinet shop. There I learned more woodworking skills. It was a custom cabinet shop. And then after that, I went to manage a frame shop right down the street. I did that for maybe a year and a half or two years, and then they went through hard times and I lost the job. That was when I decided to do my own thing.”
What intrigues you about making frames for individuals?
“Oftentimes it's very different. So for most of my clients, it's custom to the art, so there's always something new about it. I inherently like woodworking, and I like the craft of the thing. Also, there's a lot of satisfaction. They come in, [their art] is on a piece of paper, and then once you frame it, it's a whole different thing. It looks completely different. And oftentimes clients are very surprised at how different it can look. It looks finished. And of course, the final step in the process is when it actually gets onto the wall. That's when it's very satisfying. Especially when I make frames for an artist. It's an opening show and we go to the opening and it's beautiful. That's when the artwork is complete.” He looks proud like he’s reminiscing on some of his finest work.
What would you say has changed the most along the way in terms of your business? Pressed Floral?
“Yeah, the single biggest change. I think when Pressed Floral came to work with me, it was on a scale that I had to adjust to. So especially last year when things started to get busy, I had to learn how to operate two parts of my business. The first part is the production side which is what you guys will get. And then the other side is the custom framing. So I had to learn how to do it well for both, especially for production, to maintain quality and just be able to juggle things. I have employees that work on just production, and I'm training someone that just works on custom. But for me, it's switching the hat, which is a little bit difficult sometimes.” He makes a motion with his hands, miming taking off a hat and putting on another one. He’s not wearing a hat.
It sounds like Pressed Floral was the first company he had to produce a large number of frames for, so I’m curious how we found him. I ask, how did you come to work with Pressed Floral?
“So it was very organic. It was very easy. There used to be a designer at Pressed Floral, she came to my shop wanting a frame for her own pressed wedding bouquet. Back then I think Pressed Floral was using a lot of frames from a craft store and they would ship crates of glass from China. I think she wanted a higher-quality frame, so she found me and she was a BYU student. So, as I often do, I gave her a free upgrade on glass. So instead of normal glass, I gave her one eighth-inch Acrylic, which is an upgrade. I didn't know it at the time, but Pressed Floral was struggling with broken glass in the mail all the time. When she shared this with Sarah, it piqued her interest. Oh yeah, plexiglass! Problem solved. We later found out that plexiglass was not stiff enough and it would move the flowers. So it didn't work out, but the connection was made and Sarah wanted higher-quality frames. She wanted a more sustainable supply because if the craft store runs out, it's done. So then we just started working together.”What is the hardest part about designing a frame?
“The hardest part about designing a frame is that I am an artist. I have definite biases and design preferences and sometimes the client has a type that is vastly different and that I feel is inferior. And so the difficulty is for me to very gently steer them to something which I feel is a better product. Oftentimes I succeed in that. For those that I do not succeed with, sometimes I tell them that there's probably another shop that could do this better, which is true. And so I would just suggest my old shop, the one where I used to manage. I would say, hey, they do this better so you should go there.”
Since he’s an artist, I wonder what his process is for creating a frame. I ask.
“Selection of materials is very important. Wood is an organic material. It moves over time, there are color variations, and it even varies in hardness. Even the same kind of wood varies in hardness. I need to make sure that, for example, when I get product from the suppliers, I run through them and I pick up any rejects. It's also a lot of responding to the needs of the material at the time. So sometimes the wood is extra hard and we have to cut it more slowly. Sometimes the wood is too soft and we have to use a very sharp blade. So that means that we replace the blade, because with softwood, when you cut it with a not extremely sharp blade, it tears instead of cuts because it's too soft. There are a lot of these things to consider when you are running; for example, this month Pressed Floral ordered a larger amount of frames than normal. Sometimes it can become a challenge to respond to the needs of that day. Beyond that, it's to be consistent. Maintaining consistency.”
“So for me, it's not that hard because it's my business. I take pride in it. The challenge would be to convey that sense to the people I work with. And so that's a lot of imparting the vision. It's telling them, okay, we want to build this framing business. We have the best framing business in Utah in terms of quality and customer service.
How big is your team?
"I have three people right now and they are relatively new. Two of them are BYU students. One has graduated. I've been lucky like you guys to find great people to work with."
He smiles at me as he says this last sentence. He doesn’t know just how right he is. I check my list of questions, looking at the next one. This one came from our followers on Instagram. How do you recommend hanging the frame?
“The midpoint of the frame should always be at your eye level. Generally, eye level is 60 to 65 inches. So you take the midpoint, whatever it is, and you just adjust it to right there.”
He’s gesticulating as he says this, to make sure I know where on the wall the frame should hang. “That's the standard way that museums and galleries hang it up. In terms of hardware, you always want to over-engineer your hanging stuff. Especially for Pressed Floral stuff. It's double pieces of glass. And I worry that sometimes people just stick a needle in the drywall and hang it, which is always a concern.”
"So making sure that there's a stud" I clarify. This is all I know about hanging things on walls.
“In the wall, if you don't have a stud, make sure that there's one of those drywall anchors. For drywall, always have drywall anchors. Never just stick a nail in because drywall softens over time and so the nail will start drooping and once it hits the angle, the frame could, could fall. And you're talking about many, many years. Yeah, but you never know.”
I check my list again. What is the best way to clean and take care of the glass?
“Get a microfiber cloth and ammonia-free glass cleaner, so Windex will not fit this description. Spray it onto the cloth, never onto the glass. The danger about spraying it onto the glass is that it will drip and it will seep into the frame and in between the glass and it will give off gas and you don't know what it's going to do to the flowers. So spray it onto the cloth and wipe in circular motions onto the glass.”
Tell me more about the glass.
“The glass that you guys use, regardless [if it’s] art glass or the normal glass, is 99% UV protected. This means it will delay the effects of UV fading by a lot. It will not completely eliminate it, but it will add decades to the color of your flowers. In addition to UV protection, the art glass is anti-glare, meaning that unless there's a direct light shining on it you won't see reflections and feel like the flowers are just floating. The glass that you guys use is the best. That's the best glass on the market.”
What kind of things do you look for in quality control from your suppliers or in your own business?
“Right. So first thing is that the joints are always tight. That's the first thing. Second thing is that, especially for the white and the black frames, they are not scuffed.”I know these frames are painted so I clarify that he’s talking about the paint being scuffed.
“Yeah. The white and black [frames], if you ask the designers, are very finicky. We take a lot of care, actually. We triple-check each frame before, and we wrap each frame in plastic before we hand it over to you guys. So that's part of how we make sure that the quality of the frames is good. Beyond [the wrapping and checking], there's nothing that we do to maintain colors.”
I think that the wood used for each color frame is a different wood, but want to make sure. I also want to hear more about the types of wood he uses and why, so I ask.
“So it's all hardwoods. Alder. We also use maple. For the white and black frames, the wood is actually from the durian tree, which is very interesting. It's found in Malaysia, which is where I'm from. And the fruit is very smelly. Locals love it.”
He proceeds to tell me some anecdotes about this smelly fruit. How large it is, how it has spikes, and how they sometimes fall on people from the trees and cause serious injuries. A hardcore fruit tree.
“The white and the black frames are made from the wood of the durian tree, which is also a hardwood. So all the woods are hardwoods.”
But some of them still are, like, softer than others?
“Yes, as the species go, alder is the softest, so the brown ones are the softest ones. Maple is the hardest one.”
What process does your wood go through in your supplier's process before it gets to you?
“All wood is cut and dried in a kiln for at least seven months so that there's no moisture in it, or rather, there's very little moisture in it.”
For some reason, this surprises me. I had no idea how the wood was processed before it was worked with. I ask the question that may help clear some of my confusion. What would be the problem with moisture?
“So if there's a lot of moisture it starts to dry and the wood will start [to curve] like a snake. It will just start curling. So if it's dry, it comes and it's relatively stable. So that's the reason why we dry it. Also, it makes the wood a little denser just because the water has come out.”
I nod and he looks at me quizzically. “What was your [first] question? Oh, what do the suppliers do? So they do make sure [to dry the wood] and sometimes even when it's dried, when it gets to me, the wood is curved. We just cut out that curve and throw it [away]. So there's wastage but it's really just to maintain the quality of the frames as we deliver them to you guys. And we always finish it. So the whites and blacks come pre-finished. But for the brown and the maple, we do it ourselves; we stain it, and then for the maple, we put shellac over it. So for maple frames, don't use an overly wet cloth to wipe the frame since it's a little sensitive to moisture."
And what is your favorite frame option that we have? His answer comes immediately as a smile tugs at the corner of his lips.
“Maple. Yeah, the most work. There's a lot of work with maple. We join the frame and sand it so that every corner is perfectly flat. And then we fill in any gaps. We sand the gaps, and then we put shellac on. So it's a lot of steps, but I feel like it's the most beautiful work. It's the most neutral color for the flowers as well. But by saying it, I just hope that maple frames will not go up in order, because it's a lot of work.” He says while laughing.
What are your thoughts on the new antique gold?
“I love it,” he says earnestly. “So this frame option is very unique because this frame is usually used for fine art framing, costing a lot of money. A lot of money. I mean, just the frame itself. Let's say the customer brings the art and all I do is make the frame for it. It would be easily a $500-$600 frame just like that. That's a standard rate for individual framing for that kind. It's very unusual for Pressed Floral to be offering this at scale.” His eyebrows are raised as he tells me this.
“These frames are handmade in the Czech Republic. They use real gold leaf, and it's all hand done. There are no machines that could do what they do. Essentially, it's a piece of gold that's like a thousandth of an inch thick, pure gold. They pick it up with static, and the wood would have been covered with clay and polished to a mirror surface, and they would put the leaf on it. Once the leaf has dried in with the glue, they use a stone burnisher and burnish it to make it look smooth and shiny. Then they have to use steel wool to kind of scratch it to make it look antique.” He’s miming every step, showing me how they would decorate the frame and holding all of my attention.
“So it's an extremely labor-intensive process. The gold frames that you guys are offering are not even in the same league as, let's say, the gold frame you find at Michaels. It's a whole different product.”
A lot of love, I say more than ask.
“A lot of love, a lot of work, a lot of expertise. It's a lot of training. And I know because I do it. It's really crazy. In fact, I was talking to my supplier, and he said, I've never known any business that's offering the kind of gold frames you're offering at Pressed Floral. So this is pretty unique.”
I nod and look down at my list again. I realize that’s all the questions I had for him, so I thank him for interviewing with me and he smiles and nods. “When will this come out?” he asks. Within the next week. He nods and we say our goodbyes. I leave the interview with a warmth in my chest. He is such a pleasant man and I could feel his passion for his work as he was talking to me. I feel very fortunate to get to know him and work with him.
At Pressed Floral, we value quality over quantity. We know how special your bouquets are and want to treat them with the utmost respect. That’s why we use high-quality frames and glass for you to display your timeless piece of art forever! We want to make sure that these special art pieces last, and that’s why we work with a true artist who loves his craft of frame-making.