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Framers solve do-it-yourself puzzle
Berkeley shop offers customers ways to safely complete projects with varying degrees of help

By Francine Brevetti
MEDIANEWS STAFF
Article Launched: 06/14/2007 03:06:38 AM PDT

Lisa Lombardo, a framer at The Framer's Workshop in Berkeley. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)
BERKELEY -- There is do-it-yourself from scratch. Then there's do-it-yourself with help.

When the Framer's Workshop opened in 1977 on Channing Way off Telegraph Avenue, it offered do-it-yourself art framing that required customers to build a frame around their art piece from the ground up.

Today, as the shop celebrates its 30th anniversary, the staff of 10 trained framers now offers a considerable amount of help, especially through the use of high-tech appliances.

When Kirstie Bennett founded her business, The Framer's Workshop was one of a multitude of Bay Area DIY frame shops. Today, Bennett claims her enterprise is "the only DIY frame shop in the Bay Area, if not in California."

Andy Lenz, proprietor of Santa Cruz frame company Lenz Arts, said he wouldn't be at all surprised if the Berkeley shop is the only one left in the area.

"The insurance and liability issues just became too much for frame shops to bear, with people cutting themselves and all that equipment around," he said.

Lenz Arts offers custom framing. If Lenz's customers want to frame their art themselves, they have to take the materials they've bought from Lenz Arts home with them.

Bennett said her shop provides an alternative between buying a pre-made frame and struggling with it at home, or paying a custom framer a lot of money.

"You can come here and you will still get an acid-free matte and an acid-free backing and pay 30 percent less than you would elsewhere," she said.

Berkeley artist Judith Allen credits the Channing Way framers with "saving my life" because "they let clients participate in the framing process."

"Someone like me, who's nervous and dyslexic, I needed more help than the ordinary customer," Allen said. "They grasped that and were patient with me. They have improved my framing abilities. They make people feel good about themselves."

Of course, the workshop will do a custom job for an extra fee on top of materials.

Bennett and her husband and co-owner, Jeffrey Goldberg, are holding a big by-invitation-only shindig Friday to celebrate their enduring success. Artist Yoshiko Yamamoto will unveil her latest block print of an East Bay theme for the occasion.

"I got here two months after Kirstie opened and I was hired as her custom framer. Two children later, we're still here," said Goldberg, who started his career on the East Coast in art auctions and psychiatric counseling.

While the shop has remained true to its do-it-yourself roots, it has brought in a few additional tools to make it easier for the customer.

The Framer's Workshop's high-tech acquisitions include a computerized matting machine -- which is programmed to make exactly the right size matte for the piece of art and cut it precisely -- and visualization technology, a computer program that allows the customer to preview how selected frame and matting materials will look once completed.

With visualization technology, a camera captures the customer's artwork, as well as the frame and matting sample. From this, employees can create an image of how the framed piece of your precious watercolor or tapestry will appear, thus eliminating guesswork, once you've made your frame and matting selections, Bennett said.

While Bennett and Goldberg said sales over the decade have been subject to the normal vacillations of the economy, in 2006 they grossed $600,000.

"I see us as a success story in Telegraph Avenue," Bennett said. "I see us doing a lot of good for the community as a business."

The shop also serves businesses and nonprofit organizations. They count the University of California, Berkeley's women's crew team among their clients.

San Francisco-based Philo Television, a film and video editing company, is a happy customer also. Philo Director of Marketing Lori Powell said Bennett traveled to San Francisco to discuss how to archive and best present memorabilia of television inventor Philo Farnsworth. The Framer's Workshop also framed work of Philo Television's featured photographers.

"They were helpful on the aesthetic and practical side of installing this work in our space," Powell said.

The Framer's Workshop delivers a monthly electronic newsletter on an opt-in basis, and plans within the next year to open an e-commerce store on its Web site, www.framersworkshop.com.

"We often find ourselves giving cross-country framing advice by e-mail," Bennett said, "and it will be nice to expand the business to include those clients who cannot reach our shop."

The Framer's Workshop is located at 2439 Channing Way, Berkeley. Call (510) 849-4444 or visit www.framersworkshop.com for more information.

Contact Francine Brevetti at fbrevetti@angnewspapers.com or (510) 208-6416. Read the Daily Bookmark at www.ibabuzz.com/bookmark.