anniebear Interviews Downtown Willy

You’re really well known for your dungeon furniture in Los Angeles and across the country and I’m pretty sure almost every dungeon in Los Angeles has at least one piece of your furniture.

Almost!

So how did you come to start making dungeon furniture.

Well I’ve always been into the lifestyle. I kind of started early. I had a girlfriend who was a professional Dominatrix and we dated for eleven years. I never knew anything about BDSM I just thought it was stuff we did. She kind of kept me in the dark until we broke up and I’d start going on dates and the girls were like “what the hell are you doing?!” and I d have problems and people thought I was weird. I went back to her and she said we weren’t normal and she had to explain it all to me. That was how I got into the lifestyle. And then I was building custom cars and motorcycles for about twenty years. I started finding clubs to go out to and I really didn’t like the stuff I was playing on and thought hey I could do better and started making furniture.

It was probably an easy transition for you since I imagine you were doing upholstery work for cars?

Yes, I do pretty much everything. I do wood metal fabrication I was doing custom cars and motorcycles, I had the mind to do all that stuff. You get tired of waiting for people to make things so I learned how to make them myself.

Great! So you’re almost entirely self-taught or did you have a mentor?

Upholstery stuff I had a teacher in high school. Metal stuff and car stuff I actually got lucky and there was a custom car guy who goes by the name of Ed Roth and I worked for him. He was kind of one of the world famous car builders.

That’s pretty lucky.

Yea well I kind of have the crazy life. I should probably write a book. I grew up in California and built custom cars with Ed Roth. I used to skateboard with the Lords of Dogtown. I grew up with all those guys. It’s been amazing so far.

Of course almost everyone is familiar with the Lords of Dogtown because of the movie now but that’s really incredible that you have such deep roots in LA and California.

Yea I played in a punk rock speed metal band called the Excell for a while too. That was kind of around the time of the suicidal tendencies and punk rock era was going. So I’ve kind of done it all. I’m kind of the proverbial California kid. I’m still running around with some of my best friends Robert and Susan Williams. A lot of the people in the low brow art movement. I’m into a lot of art and things like that.

Were you always a creative and artistic person or was it developed?

Pretty much always. I kind of grew up in a household where my grandfather was a gunsmith and my dad and everyone in my family, my aunts and uncles all did stuff with their hands. My mom worked for Howard Hughes. She made a lot of stuff for him personally for his projects. I was just kind of left alone to do what I wanted to as a kid. My parents were really never around so I was always building something. Or doing something crazy. I was building go carts when I was about five years old and running them down the hills and scaring the neighbor kids. But I’ve always been doing something and when I got into high school I started taking upholstery class. Before that I was doing some sewing class because the punk rock stuff; I wanted to make some money so I was making custom clothes back then with punk rock spikes.

The stuff you couldn’t really get in stores at the time?

No you couldn’t get it. I just happened to get lucky because I was just a kid back in the 80s and I went down to Melrose before it became really big with everybody else and I went to a few stores down there called Let it Rock which was owned by Malcolm McLaren the manager of the Sex Pistols. And then there was another store called Posers and it was like an English punk rock shop. I’d go and buy all the punk rock spikes and go home, sew all that stuff, make a bunch of money then I’d go to Let it Rock and go buy all the crazy rockabilly clothes.

Do you still have any of it?

Oh, I probably have some packed away. (Laughs)

You’ll have to resurrect them soon.

Yea ill probably pull them out and make some patterns and clothes. I’ve always been making something somewhere, goofing up stuff.

When it comes to your dungeon furniture, I know you have had a ton of clients and I’m sure you have a current roster of clients you make things for. What do you think one of the most commonly requested items for dungeon furniture would be?

For professional dungeons, the most common is a table cage I make. It acts as a cage and bondage table as well. Part of it kind of tilts up. That’s really the big seller for most professionals and the second piece would be the horse that I make.

bondage bed

Right, the padded one with the ring attachments?

Yes, and then the crosses and everything else is for lifestyle people that play at home. Professional Dominatrixes for some reason don’t do a lot of flogging. They specialize more in medical play and bondage. My business, its like a lot of people who have tried to get into the furniture business usually fail because its usually guys and usually they make what they would use and its kind of the reverse. Ninety nine percent of my customers are female. I cater to them and I know what they need. I’ve lasted longer I guess or become the household name for furniture because these guys have the wrong attitude when they talk to women. They talk down to them, they just feel they’ve got to be Dominant no matter who they talk to. It’s not about that its just business and they don’t get that but I guess I do and I’m still in business.

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Its good that you’re actually in tune with how to operate a business especially in the lifestyle. I think a lot of people get confused and get their wires crossed.

Every once in a great while I get a female Dominant that’s a professional that thinks the world should bow down to them and I’m trying to be nice and say look this a business I’m not your property I’m not in service. But that’s about as far as it goes. Sometimes wires do get crossed. Here at the shop I had a showroom for a while but I got rid of it because I’d get women on FetLife who say he’s got all this furniture and they want to come over and they expect that because I have the furniture I’m going to play with them.

And you’re like, “I’m just trying to sell you this spanking bench.” (Laughs)

It’s kind of hard! Its kind of a big gray area, I really don’t mix business with pleasure. I just tell them, look if you want to try something I’m here at these events and we can do something but right here and now this is a workspace for me. I can’t play. It gets kind of dicey so I start screening anyone who wants to come over here.

Any given year I get about twenty five people that come over here and think I’m a play space of some sort, its kind of strange. And I’ve had people that order stuff and they’ll come over and look at it before I send it off to the powder coater they get kind of nervous so I just let them in the back and say I trust you, do what you want, when you leave lock the door and give me a call because some people are just really nervous.

There’s definitely a very thin line sometimes and people get the wrong idea for whatever reason.

I do custom clothing and movie props. I do stuff for Marvel and music videos for Beyonce and J-lo. I had pieces last year or so on the New York fashion runway. Kind of funny.

You’ve kind of been all over the map then! Not many people can say they work in both BDSM, high fashion, movie business, all of it.

I had a piece of furniture that Dion Neutra, a very famous architect who passed away a few years back but he had these chairs in his houses and we ended up making them. But the original one I made was off his sketches and I still think is in the Guggenheim in New York.

That’s so great! What’s the weirdest and I mean weird even by your standards- the most unusual thing you’ve had to make or build or have been requested to make?

I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve done that yet, I’m pretty twisted! Well, not so weird, I mean most people would think its weird because they’re not in the lifestyle. Its pretty standard stuff. There are some times I try to push the envelope here and there. Nothing too crazy to write about.

Do you have a favorite piece that comes to mind?

Years ago, about when I started doing furniture professionally, I was running into a problem. There was another builder in town and nobody would talk to me I was kind of the black sheep. I would introduce myself and they would say oh you’re that other furniture builder and they wouldn’t talk to me. So I had a bunch of furniture made and I ended up getting contacted by Nina Hartley to bring some furniture to a premier for her. I was thinking all of these people are going to be there, all of the big people in California BDSM so I need to do something out of this world. I sat there and sat there and I was going through the internet and I found this artist that had during the sixties made human furniture. They were mannequins in bondage as chairs, tables and lamps. But I actually went and met him after I made the piece I did and he told me he hated it. It was the greatest point in his career of anything he had ever made but he hated it. It was kind of weird but for me it was the shot heard round the world because people were walking by this piece and they thought it was somebody on all fours but it wasn’t.

I’d made an English style spanking bench but I made it look like somebody encased in latex on all fours with a hood on and people were sitting on it thinking holy shit that’s a piece of furniture. You’re in a nightclub, its dark, you know? But it was enough to make your brain go “what the hell” because it was sitting on these four steel balls, under two of the hands and they’re perched on it, and these steel balls were about six inches around and the feet were on them too. People were thinking how the hell can a person balance themselves on it, it was just enough to break somebody’s brain.

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I figured I might as well get all of the attention I can and that’s what I did and it worked. People started talking to me. It was hard. I think in this lifestyle and industry once you become somebody you’re the guy that they go to and if somebody else comes along you got to prove yourself and I think I proved myself.

It sounds like you did a pretty fair job of it. (laughs)

Well I had to think outside of what the other guy was doing otherwise he would say I was just copying what he did. I used to get letters from him saying I was stealing his ideas. But no there was no way. I wrote back and said you’re just mad because I’m doing something that you’re not. Honestly if I wanted to do what you’re doing I would have done it already and could have done it. It took a while. It literally took about four years before people actually talked to me like I was a human being and not the plague. Then nowadays there’s never a shortage of builders, I talk to them, I’m nice to them, their stuff is their stuff mine is mine unless they try to steal or copy it. They usually come and go like I say. They don’t really build anything towards a client base. They build what they want themselves.

I guess its safe to assume your house is pretty decked out with some kinky furniture?

Well, it kind of looks like The Haunted Mansion. The kitchen is like shades of brown and copper and the walls are purple. I hand stenciled skulls. I just finished the chandelier in there with all the battery lit candles. I come home and its like Disneyland. I have a lot of skulls because I like them but I usually paint them to look like artwork, they’re hand painted to so they match the décor so it doesn’t look like a kids room. I just try to take it a step beyond. It’s a work live space so the ceilings are a little bit taller.

Since you’ve been in the lifestyle for a little bit, how do you feel the community has changed from when you first started to now?

Man, its crazy, when I was with my ex for eleven years and got done dating her it was about two years after that when I had the conversation with her because I was wondering why these women were afraid of this. I just thought it was normal stuff. I mean eleven years of having sex and doing all of that stuff, you just think it’s normal! Its different and she explained it to me and I was like ok crap. So that was 1992-93. Back then computers were still not developed there was no Internet. You couldn’t talk to anybody. The only thing that was available was if you could find Threshold which back then was the biggest lifestyle organization that taught you, had classes and parties. I actually got lucky because about three weeks after I had the conversation with my ex, I was in a space that I moved into that was actually the old Howard Hughes building my mom worked in when she was pregnant with me. So I’m in there and I just built this giant robotic scorpion and we did movie props for a while, Star Trek, Batman, Independence Day-all that kind of stuff . This building was 32,000 square feet so I started renting the warehouse out for underground parties. These guys came in while I was in my office. My secretary takes them for a walk and I’m just staring at my chair and I’m just thinking I built that chair with intentions to use it for bondage and then I over hear this guys say, “yea rope should go right through here.” I was thinking these people were in my neighborhood.

You found your people!

Well no, first thing, it was kind of weird for me. They said we need someone to run this party and I thought I can deal with that. I’d never been to a play party that was in my own place of all things. A little bit edgy for me considering it was the biggest party to date, except for the Bondage Ball. This thing had about 800 people show up for it so I saw all kinds of stuff that I had never seen before. When you do something its one thing but when you see someone else do it its like ok that’s what it looks like? It was kind of out there. But those people came and went and I really didn’t get a chance to talk to anybody. They just kind of dealt with everybody in the office. As soon as they left I tried to get their contact info and they didn’t leave any phone numbers.

It took me almost another year until I saw in the LA Weekly an ad for something called Bizarre Bizarre hosted by Threshold. That was almost what DomCon is today. I ended up meeting a lot of people and then ended up becoming a member for the next ten years. During that time, before about the time I joined until a few years later, they still didn’t have a permanent place. I helped them find a place. I actually put together and paid for their first place because once again I wanted a place. I figured ok I can pay to build this and someone else can pay the rent and I can use it when I need it. It just made sense to me. I wasn’t thinking about doing it as a business then. It worked. People started asking can you do this or that and I just kept going with it.

So you helped build and set up the original Threshold?

Yes. That was the first space I ever did.

I had no idea! I recognized some of your furniture in there though.

I took over doing the Bondage Ball out here around 94-95 with Matthew Grimm and Courtney. We’ve been doing that quarterly except for the last year. Just having problems finding venues willing to work with us in Hollywood . It’s kind of on the back burner now. What I’m doing now on top of all that I picked up and started doing a fetish and fantasy thing at the hard rock. I’ve been dong that for three years too. It’s a fun gig. I get to bring all of my stuff out there and I get to go on stage and do stuff. Kind of a challenge.

Yes, a lot of organization I’d imagine.

What’s really hard in Vegas is you’re under the laws of the state which is the rule of thumb; if you leave a mark bigger than your thumb on somebody then they’re going to throw you in jail. If you crack a whip they’re going to haul you in. It’s pretty insane. I have to go early and the cops read you the riot act and they’ll throw me in jail or not depending on whether they like what I’m doing. Its kind of a bit of a showdown. It’s a little bit intimidating but on top of being up there on stage in front of 7000 people its crazy enough you got to deal with that. It’s a lot more stress than doing the Bondage Ball because in LA you can get away with stuff.

It is crazy. We’ve interviewed a couple of people from Vegas and I’ve had a few personal experiences with individuals in Vegas and it’s a really tough community there.

I wish Vegas was a lot better because compared to LA I’ve got projects happening right now that aren’t kink related. The community itself is really weird. I flew out there once, went to a munch and they have 200 RSVP, I walk around and introduce myself, talk to them and say where do you play what do you do and nobody showed up. They say well everyone is really fickle, they don’t get along. You’re telling me that out of 200 people you cant get five into a play space to play? It’s just the strangest place.

So what do you think the future of BDSM looks like?

The future of BDSM, I just think in the future everyone is going to be doing this stuff. You’re slowly going to have communities, but I go to the mall right now and I go into Spencers which is a t-shirt shop and they’ve got whips and floggers so I think the edge is off for now. More accepting I just think. Five or ten years down the line my stuff is probably going to be in everybody’s house.

I like that idea! Let’s petition for that!

I think its just getting more mainstream. I’ve seen it where it was underground when there was no computer access. In the last ten years it’s evolved a million percent. I used to talk to people and my friend who used to be a professional Dominatrix says, well in my lifetime its grown every ten years. It gets better and better. So for now it just seems like this a racecar with an open throttle. Which is good and bad. The Fifty Shades of Gray thing came out and I’d be at a nightclub and I’d watch some guy walk in with a suit and tie and pull out a bullwhip and go well, better take that guy down before he hurts somebody.

Before he rips open someone’s skin

They come in there and start doing stuff and have no education. I tried to get a bunch of my female friends who are professional and well known and said why don’t you take this time and make a career out of educating people. Its got to be a lot easier than doing a session and it could make good money. Nobody seemed to run with it but a lot of the stores picked up on it and started doing it. I just think its going to keep evolving, hopefully for the better.

I think the only people who are going to have a problem are the people who have been in it as long as I have because they all kind of hold onto it like a chunk of dirt. “I was into this, this is mine,” like they invented the stuff. But its been around since the dawn of time. People have been doing something or other, it goes back in history. But some people think they invented it and those guys are crazy too.

(Laughs) Everybody has their own version of crazy

Well they think they’ve got rights to this.

You can contact Downtown Willy directly via his FetLife profile.

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