Q&A: Kelley O’Brien, Ft. Sanders Yacht Club bartender and furniture maker

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Name: Kelley O’Brien

Age: 23

Sign: Virgo

Occupation: Ft. Sanders Yacht Club bartender and furniture maker.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Fairfax, Va. It’s exactly 17 miles from the Washington Monument. I left to go to college at UT. I wanted to go far enough away that my parents can’t just “stop in,” but if something happened, they could be here in a day. I also wanted to go where I didn’t know anyone. I think it’s good to get anxious, feel alone, and not be super-confident in yourself sometimes. It brings you back to reality. My freshman year I was miserable. I hated it here and complained all the time about it. Eventually I started to ask myself how to go about getting what I want out of Knoxville. I figured it out by my sophomore year. I then fell in love with this city.

Do you still love it here?

Oh yes! I actually can’t imagine living anywhere else. The longer I’m here the better it gets. The friends I have made are the kindest and most wonderful. There is rarely a day in Knoxville that I wouldn’t repeat given the chance. Something crazy and unique seems to happen every day and it makes me appreciate this city more and more. The art, music, and food scenes here are pretty awesome. The farmers’ market and other local options help drive my love, too. I also love that this is a bike-friendly city. I didn’t even know how to ride a bicycle when I moved here, but I quickly realized I would need to learn. Drivers here seem to be keenly aware of us and less rude or dangerous than in other cities. I do notice that a lot of people that were born and raised here take Knoxville for granted. They don’t realize how easy life is here. You can really make something out of nothing. But I notice that many Knoxville folk make nothing out of nothing. People seem to get into a groove here and just run with it. They decide not to really do anything with their lives.

Did your parents have much of an influence on your creativity?

Oh, absolutely, especially my dad. He is a civil engineer designing highways and bridges. In high school I was a competitive swimmer and he would drive me to practice at 3 a.m. every morning. The radio would be playing a DJ called “Goldie of the Oldies”. He played funk and soul from 3 a.m. to 5 a.m. When I was done with practice it was all Motown. Those things really helped mold me into a more creative person. My mother more or less contributed to my attitude toward life and personality. She was a single mom, so she taught me to be super-independent, strong, and to do what I want regardless of what people say. If I end up not happy, I have no one to blame but myself and it’s up to me to change the situation.

What kind of architecture are you interested in pursuing?

Well, my ultimate goal is to NOT work at a desk. I did that for a while and hated it. I decided to change my approach to architecture. I met a professor my second year that had a serious influence on me. He became my mentor and discussed the environment that the architecture school creates and how to not sacrifice my personal life for projects that don’t mean much. I began using materials in ways other people weren’t. I designed coffee tables out of street signs and things like that. My current boss gave me the opportunity to design the shelving for Isle Nine. We went to the store and looked at bolts and screws for about six hours! I got so excited just looking at shelving pins and how they work. It was blowing my mind!

How does your creativity relate to your personal style?

I was super-awkward in high school. I was loud and assertive. I didn’t have many friends because I was too busy swimming. Looking back, I was so homely. I only wore jeans, sweats, and swim clothes. I was very frumpy and insecure. Over the last few years I’ve really figured out who I am. I know that I am loud. I know that I demand a lot of attention in certain situations. Someone once described me as physically and mentally exhausting to be around because I’m always happy, loud, and excited. It’s very hard to get me down. I never get too fancy, but I do love bright colors, things that don’t match, and clashing patters. I think that really reflects who I am.

Clothing worn:

Scarf: From Finland, purchased this summer, 20 euros

Coat: Christmas present from my sister, three years ago

Dress: T.J. Maxx, a week ago, $15

Tights: T.J. Maxx, a week ago, $5

Boots: Gift from Mom, five years ago, $200

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