If I could sum up my life in a word, it would be insatiable. No, maybe meticulous or lucky. Ok, so maybe there isn’t one good word, but one thing is for sure, it has not been boring. I’ve lived my life to celebrate the moment around me, not planning for the future; that may have been my only regret. But, in hindsight, it has served me well. I was born on October 10, 1968, in New London, Connecticut. My parents, Rose and Duane, moved our family, which included my younger brother Kevin, to Utah in 1971. I didn’t realize this until I was much older, but Utah is the best place to grow up, especially if you were as active as me. My dad ran a local motorcycle shop in Utah called Cycle Barn. That was where I would spend many weekends working – pulling weeds and cleaning and I’m still not sure how they talked me into that - but I do know, I loved being around the shop. Always looking for an adventure when we weren’t working, we were outside doing something fun. I remember vividly our annual trips to the WidowMaker Hill Climb (a motorcycle climb straight up a mountain that was thrilling and terrifying to watch). We would head out to Rocky Mountain Raceway to catch the races or would race our BMX bikes or play Little League baseball with my brother, and of course camping and boating filled our summers. I also played football at Hillcrest High School. And winters didn’t slow us down. We carved up many slopes along the Wasatch front, skied the bumps at Solitude, and who knew then that I would be one of a handful of locals to legally snowboard Alta in 1985. My parents divorced when I was 12 years old, and a few years later my dad remarried Linda.
When I was a junior in high school, my father got tired of the rat race and moved us from the suburban comforts of Sandy, Utah, to Sandpoint, Idaho. I found out quickly that life in Idaho would be very different. Our house wasn’t ready to move in to, so after a few weeks in a tent, we temporarily moved in to the barn on the property. Not a single luxury. If we needed to make a phone call, the phone was outside hanging on a tree.
After high school, I knew I wanted to continue my education but had no way to pay for it, so I joined the Army, as a cook, knowing I could go to college when I was done. I made it through basic training and was stationed in Savannah, Georgia. Moving to Savannah was a big culture shock – one of many I would experience over my four years in the Army. I spent a year and a half in Georgia, and I met new friends and developed a deep love for music. I started DJ-ing on weekends, playing industrial house music from the ’80s.
My next stop was an Army base in Darmstadt, Germany, near Frankfurt. Remember I told you I was an adventurer? Well, being in Europe gave me a whole new continent full of places to discover. First order of business was to find a fellow wanderer, but I soon discovered there weren’t too many others in the Army who had the same ideas. Luckily, a friend from my time in Savannah was stationed with me. We set off to explore as much of Europe as we could with the leave the Army gave us. We spent time traipsing all over Germany, France, Spain and Austria in search of something new, and there was always something new to be found. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, we quickly took off for Berlin to join in the revelry, but after we got stuck in a two-day traffic jam, we turned west and headed to Amsterdam to celebrate with the rest of the world. The excitement throughout Europe around that historically significant event was unmistakable and I think of myself as incredibly fortunate to have witnessed it firsthand.
After two years in Germany, the Gulf War broke out, and my unit was sent to Turkey. While I had gotten used to being someplace other than the Intermountain West - and I felt that I had gotten used to adapting easily to different cultures - the six months I spent in Turkey were an experience I could never have imagined. We were stationed in northern Turkey to help with the migration of Kurds. Many of them were homeless and had no food or sanitation, and we were tasked with helping them rebuild and providing them comfort. We helped build roads and shelters and all the basic things we take for granted. It was a grim existence, but I hope that my presence did some good. When my enlistment was up, I was honorably discharged from the Army and hurried home to Idaho.
When I returned to Idaho, I took a two-year sabbatical to retune myself. I spent a lot of time outside tearing up the mountains all year round and working with my hands and took time to plan my future. One evening I was caught in a tragic accident. Late October 1993, as the sun was setting, a microstorm moved through Sandpoint and capsized our sailboat in the middle of Lake Pend Oreille. It took three hours for me and my friends to swim to shore in the dark. Luckily we made it out alive with only a mild case of hypothermia.
I moved back to Salt Lake City where I enrolled in classes at Salt Lake Community College. I was drawn to architecture, CAD, and furniture construction and found a home in the woodshop. I found that I loved being in the shop and creating something amazing out of a block of wood, and I soon realized it was something I had a true talent for. I found my niche for furniture craftsmanship. I was surprised how fast my portfolio started coming together. I kept looking for new ways to improve my craft, as part of that, I started attending architectural seminars at the University of Utah. My thirst for new challenges wasn’t quenched, so when my good friend who was an artist told me about the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado, I applied to its program and was awarded a residency and moved to Snowmass.
Now I found myself in yet another new place, surrounded by new people. I studied hard for four years at the Anderson Ranch in design-intensive form and function furniture and woodworking. I’ve always been one to ask questions and start conversations and this new setting gave me the chance to learn from and ask questions of some of the most well renowned craftsmen of our time. I found that I was influenced by many interesting artists from all over the world. Once such person was Sam Maloof. He is considered the godfather of American woodworking, and when he asked me to be his summer assistant, I jumped at the opportunity. Sam had a significant impactful influence on my style, as did Gail Fredell, the program’s director, who I had the honor of being her assistant in the woodshop.
And I must have made an impression on them too, because before I finished my residency, I was asked to donate a piece for the annual art auction. I crafted a foyer wall table of solid mahogany that was auctioned for $20,000. Anderson Ranch helped me develop my sense of style and personal philosophy. It’s where I learned to appreciate the natural relationship between the wood and whomever I’m making the piece for. I truly believe that the lives of people everywhere are influenced by their home surroundings. I always set out to create unique furniture by focusing on spatial relationships—the bond between artisan and materials; the connection that grows between a form and the space it inhabits; and, most importantly, the natural relationship between art and the individual or community for which it is created. My work is animated and each piece has its own personality.
I decided to stay in Colorado and opened a design studio and shop in Carbondale. Some clients commissioned me to work on some individual projects, and I started working for the Aspen Art Museum to construct its art exhibits. Things were going along pretty well, but then adversity struck when one of my clients died and I had a car accident which totaled my car; both happened in the same week. It was too overwhelming for me and I didn’t know what to do. I hopped a train back to Salt Lake City to start anew.
I took a job working at the Zephyr Club to support myself and to be around the Salt Lake City music scene as I worked to establish myself as an artist and contractor. In 1999, while working at the Outdoor Retailer show, a tornado hit the back of my truck and blew out all the windows on me while I was in the truck and blew me to the curb. An unfortunate accident I lived through. Once again, I felt lucky to be alive, especially after seeing all the damage around me.
I was an unknown in town and it took time and persistence to find clients and open a woodworking studio. Fortunately, I was commissioned by the lieutenant governor of Utah to create the art exhibit for the rotunda room of the state capitol building for the annual art exhibit in 2000. After this job, it gave me the opportunity to open my woodworking studio - first in the Avenues and later in Sugar House- called DeBrowe Design.
My reputation in the Salt Lake Valley was growing, and I found myself working on all sorts of amazing projects. I was commissioned to work on the new Salt Lake City library where I designed and built the display shelves the library uses to sell books and other wares. I also continued to work with individual clients creating custom furniture and was asked to help restore the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Utah. I spent months with the architect for that project, but ultimately, I did not participate in that restoration. Instead, I took on an even bigger project: the restoration of the historic First Presbyterian Church on South Temple.
In 2003, the First Presbyterian Church required a master woodworker to preserve and restore all the woodworking inside the historic building. It was an immense undertaking. I was assigned to spearhead the large-scale project and hired a team of more than 20 local craftsmen and artisans. Together, we restored all the woodworking in the windows, the pews, the trusses and the staircases. The project took more than a year, shutting down the church completely. Needless to say, it was a stressful time as we worked long hours to meet our deadlines, but in the end it all came together spectacularly. The restoration was a huge success, and I received an Award of Merit from the SLC Historic Landmark Commission. Have you seen it in person? You need to. It is truly remarkable.
All of a sudden, I was known as a trailblazer in the preservation and restoration field of historic architecture. More big jobs came my way, including multiple with the University of Utah in the Warnock College of Engineering building and the Fine Arts Museum. Throughout all this, my private commission work and home and business renovations continued to grow. Some of my commissions were for Rio Grande Building, Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, Kura Door Spa, Sundance Film Festival, Coffee Garden, historic “K” Street Mercantile, Dick Simon, Publik Kitchen, Backcountry.com, Infinite Scale and Ski Utah. My work spans coast to coast, with my craftsmanship all over Utah, Colorado, San Francisco and New York City.
My next challenge was to take a job at a local company, 3-Form, as a job captain, where I made art from architectural plastic. I soon realized that I was not the corporate type. I had not worked for someone like that since the Army and I wasn’t happy, so I left to go back to making custom furniture and being my own boss. I hustled, was lucky I found enough work to keep myself afloat—with contractors, in the film industry and with private clients—but I finally found my true home and calling a few years later at Camper Reparadise. Everything I had done in my life up to that point gave me the skills and expertise to be a woodworking and design project manager and craftsman in trailer design and building.
Restoring Airstream trailers brought my passion for adventure, travel, and the outdoors together with my passion for woodworking. It seriously could not have been a more perfect job for me. I call the trailers I’ve refinished, Dreamstreams. Being able to take something that was in disrepair and turn it back into something not only useful, but also beautiful, brought me immense joy. My restored trailers are adorned with cabinetry made of mahogany and walnut, as well as custom lighting and framework. My Dreamstreams are luxurious. This work was exactly what I had been craving for all these years.
Looking back, I believe that my parents bestowed a spirit of independence and freedom that I have lived by my entire life. They instilled in me the notion that I could do and be whatever I wanted, and to dream big. And I did, with very few regrets. Meanwhile, my life was pretty good. I rediscovered my passion for competing through sports. I had a personal goal to race in the world single-speed race in Bend, OR but was noticing my body was changing. I thought it was because I might be an old man now. My friends noticed that I was losing my speech and laughing and crying for no apparent reason. One day I was in the breakroom at work and started to choke on nothing, until I passed out on the floor. After that incident, I headed to the Emergency Room at the VA to find out why. It was a sad day when I had to stop working because of my eventual ALS diagnosis. Everything in my life was changing and I had to get real, really fast, especially around what I believed in and in what made me happy. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I am a Veteran, so I have a lot of support at the Veterans Administration Hospital as I go through this ALS journey. Interestingly, there is a higher incidence of ALS in Veterans, especially from those who served in the Gulf War.
My diagnosis got me thinking about how we go through life trying to acquire wealth and wondering what our purpose is. I think that everyone has different ideas about what that is, and everyone has had their own unique journey. But for me, I realized the wealth I have acquired is not money, but the friendships I have made. Throughout my life, if I wasn’t in the studio, you could find me somewhere in the Wasatch living life to the fullest with my posse extraordinaire. We would be backcountry skiing, snowboarding, riding bikes in the desert or the mountains, or cruising on the Jordan River parkway or having a bike parade through Salt Lake City on our vintage Schwinn bikes. My friends have become my family.
In November of 2017, shortly after my diagnosis, my friends and family held a benefit for me at The State Room in Salt Lake City, which helped raise awareness of ALS and, quite frankly, the money for me to continue my journey. It was certainly not going to be easy, but I was not willing to give up on my life. In early 2018, I began a new, very intense treatment for ALS called Radicava. The treatment included two-hour infusions every day for two weeks and then a two-week break, and then it started all over again. It was a relentless schedule, but it was supposed to reduce the decline of nerve damage by 33 percent. After six months of treatment, I had a big decision to make about how I wanted to live the remainder of my life. There wasn’t enough data to show if the drug was helping or not, and I was tired of being tied down to the strict schedule of the treatments. That kind of life, being tied down, was never really my style and I wasn’t ready to give into it, at least not yet. My free-spirit personality needed to have adventure, especially because it wasn’t clear if the treatment was working. I stopped the treatment and decided to take an epic trip. A trip that would incorporate the things most important to me – adventure and friends.
In 2018, I embarked on the greatest adventure of my lifetime - a solo road trip of more than 30,000 miles, or the equivalent of one lap around the world - with my custom trailer. Well, it wasn’t completely solo: my Vizsla dog, Elsie accompanied me on the journey. My intention was to visit as many friends and as many national parks in the Western United States as I could before it became too difficult for me to travel. It was an amazing trip of self-experience and just what Elsie and I needed. During those months on the road, I took many pictures, created memories, and explored old and new places; I traveled to the beaches of Mexico, Hawaii and Oregon, to the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park to the lowest spot in Death Valley, to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and to the icefields of Canada. Along the way we laughed and cried, we felt the rain and the sun, and we gazed upon the sunrise and sat quietly as the campfires burned after sunset. It was a time of solitude and contemplation and a time of rekindled friendships. My trips were about creating lasting memories with my friends and family. The trips were for them, and not for me, but the trips I will cherish and take with me.
I have so many memories I want to share and friends to acknowledge, but what I really want is to hear your stories about our times together. Will you do that for me? Will you add your memories and photos of times we spent together? Those stories will make me feel like the wealthiest man in the world.
B Rowe November 2019
Sandy, UT during the early ’70s consisted of large open spaces, undeveloped lots, and a young Bryan Rowe ripping around on a BMX bike. During that time, Bryan’s dad ran a motorcycle shop, where little shop rug rats – Bryan and his brother, Kevin – were paid to polish bikes and clean up after the guard dog, Sampson.
As the idiom goes, “boys will be boys” and a mischievous Bryan often found himself in trouble for disassembling his friend's bikes… and not putting them back together. Eventually this turned for the better, and he learned to reassemble bicycles – resulting in an eclectic collection of vintage Schwinns restored and preserved by Bryan.
The Rowe Family also homesteaded in Sandpoint, Idaho during the ’80s. They lived out of a tent and later a pole building with dirt floors before moving into the completed house. The hearty lessons learned here transferred into Bryan’s military service. In 1986, Bryan joined the Army, where he was stationed in Savannah, Georgia, Turkey, and Germany.
After his service, Bryan returned to Salt Lake City to make a lasting impact on the blossoming outdoors scene of Utah. As a child, Bryan skied Alta, but soon ditched the extra plank for a single board. In fact, he claims to be one of the few to legally carve Alta Ski Area on a swallow tail Burton Elite before the controversial ban in ’85.
Since then, Bryan has amassed an impressive assortment of skis and snowboards. Likewise, from his first BMX to current crop of mountain bikes – Bryan’s always kept the latest and greatest underneath him. The list is long, but here’s some quick notables for the dirt; ’80s 24/26in wheeled Cannondale, ’90s GT Zaskar, ’00s Intense, and most recently the latest Breadwinner. Simply put, he has always had good taste in gear.
Which brings us to what Bryan did to fuel those adventures and equipment. Most simply put, he is a craftsman… but quickly transcends that term when one sees the attention to detail and his natural eye for beauty. If you’ve ever frequented the Coffee Garden on 9th and 9th, visited the Salt Lake Library, or been inside the Utah State Capital, you’ve experienced a bit of Bryan’s handywork.
And it extends throughout Salt Lake City… you’ll find more of his work at Backcountry.com, Ski Utah, and the 1st Presbyterian Church to name a few more. Bryan’s talent even stretches beyond Utah with his work at Camper Reparadise.