Fabio Alvino Roca

Designer || Fabricator

In the beginning, there was Brooklyn dirt and rat shit. Years of neglect had transformed the basement below his friend’s Bushwick art gallery and studio into a hospitable love den for vermin who could burrow in waist-deep piles of soil without being bothered. It was this forgotten Brooklyn landscape that first attracted Fabio Alvino Roca in 2011. Beyond the rat nests and decay lay something more precious to an aspiring woodworker living in a cramped city: space.

And so began Fabio’s quest to turn his friend’s basement into something usable. Fabio had been searching the city for spots where he could build his own workshop. If he could stomach the unpleasant task of clearing out the rat nests and filth that had accumulated under his friend’s studio, the basement would be his to use.

“You would not believe,” Fabio says shaking his head. “It was nasty.”

There was so much dirt covering the basement that at first Fabio says he wasn’t even sure if there was solid ground underneath. He kept digging because he needed to make sure he could stand upright without hitting the ceiling. Finally, his shovel hit something solid—concrete. Hidden away under layers of dirt was a concrete floor. “Discovering this floor was the sign of hope,” Fabio says as he admires the smooth ground beneath his boots.

The decrepit rat infested basement Fabio first laid eyes on is no more. In its place is a workshop that has become a refuge for Fabio outside of his day job at an architectural design firm in Manhattan. The basement is now filled with wood scraps and tools.

If he’s not at work, there’s a good chance he’s down in his Bushwick basement, tinkering. He says he spends between 30 and 40 hours a week in the basement. “If I miss a day, I feel strange,” Fabio says. “I work in the shop from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. during the week. All day Saturday and Sunday.”

The time he spends in his shop allows him to feed his passion for carpentry and develop his skills. Fabio has built shelves, ladders, tables, benches and other knick-knacks in his shop for friends and family. He recently finished building a humidor as a birthday present for his partner’s father (a cigar aficionado); also with the help of his partner, Arta Perezic, he used different species of exotic wood scraps to build a puzzle-like table, and a chess set made entirely of concrete.

Although Fabio works in design, he is a self-taught furniture maker who learned how to build in his spare time. He has become so adept in woodworking that Fabio has also been commissioned to build furniture for clients. There is a constant flow of projects at Fabio’s cellar.

That Fabio has found time outside of work to build — and build so much — is likely a byproduct of his upbringing. He says from an early age his family encouraged him to be self-reliant. Fabio’s grandfather built his own house in Venezuela. As a boy, Fabio says he would help his father build furniture for their home (he also played with Legos). His mother’s side of the family are all jewelers.

“It’s a family of entrepreneurs,” Fabio said. “That’s how we see freedom. It’s something that’s in my blood.”

Fabio’s budding woodsmithing business has grown through positive word-of-mouth. His friends have pushed him to create a website (“I don’t know the first thing about building a website”), but that won’t come until later. For now, Fabio says he is satisfied with the enjoyment he gets from building projects on his own time, on his own terms.

His family has come to visit his workshop, and Fabio says they fully support his desire to keep building and are happy to see he has carved out his own creative space in New York.

“They see it as a way to liberate myself,” he says.