A Career Well Designed
These days it’s not typical to find a professional that has worked for the same company their entire career. In many places, five years could be considered long-term. There are outliers though, and Kevin Dewald is one of them.
After graduating from KCAD’s Furniture Design program in 1989, Dewald landed a job with Belwith, one of the world’s most renowned hardware design companies, and has remained there ever since. After starting as a staff designer, he eventually fell into decorative hardware, moved his way up to senior designer, and managed the company’s design department for a decade before entering his current position as director of marketing and product management. Now, after 26 years, Dewald oversees multiple departments and manages 3,500 active products for an industry leading company.
Kevin Dewald (photo courtesy of Belwith Products)
“I’ve designed so many pieces of hardware; it’s neat to watch TV and see some of my stuff in the background,” Dewald says. “Having been with the company since 1989, I’ve seen the designs experience spectacular sales, peak, and then go through their downfall. I’m obsoleting my own product on a regular basis.”
A Belwith modeler hard at work creating a new piece (photo courtesy of Belwith Products)
Belwith designs countless pieces of hardware for markets ranging from high-end, six-figure cast brass tables, to run of the mill knobs you’d find at Home Depot. The company, which began life as Keeler Brass in 1893, has long been a stalwart of the Grand Rapids community. The sheer diversity and volume of Belwith’s products has kept Dewald’s career interesting from the beginning.
An assortment of Belwith hardware designs (photo courtesy of Belwith Products)
Like so many careers, Dewald’s was born in garage. While his colleagues busied themselves under the hoods of sports cars or building computers, Dewald designed and made his own furniture with a very limited array of hand tools. During high school, Dewald took a tour of the former Story and Clark Piano factory in Grand Haven, and after seeing the design process come to life on a larger scale, he was moved to pursue a career in furniture design at KCAD.
A piece of Belwith hardware going through the casting process (photo courtesy of Belwith Products)
It was at KCAD that Dewald learned the biggest key to succeeding in the design world: networking. It’s not enough to concentrate solely on your portfolio, Dewald says; students need to gain exposure to professionals in the field to be noticed. That lesson came to life when he decided to physically produce one of his designs for his senior thesis project. To see the project through, Dewald needed materials. In one of those strange twists of fate, he reached out to Keeler Brass and another area company, trading freelance design work for what he needed.
A line of Belwith hardware taking a chemical bath (photo courtesy of Belwith Products)
“It was the professors that guided me down this route,” he says. “They were a big help and mentored me, every one of them.”
Fresh out of college, Dewald applied for a position with Chautauqua Hardware – then owned by Keeler Brass – designing high-end brass furniture in Jamestown, New York. But he didn’t hear back from the company. Finally, he decided to try a less conventional approach.
“I took the initiative and designed some tables, rendered them, and sent them to the president saying I was still interested,” Dewald says. “The next day I got a job offer. Don’t give up on the interview.”
And while he doesn’t have the time to design a lot of hardware these days, Dewald’s attachment to the business, its storied history, and the field has kept him firmly in place with no intent on calling it quits.
“I love this company,” Dewald says. “The hardware business is flowing through my veins.”