Sitting in the corner of his grandfather’s automotive workshop deconstructing engines as a young lad in 1990s Devon, England, little Ben Harvey couldn’t have imagined that, some twenty years later and thousands of miles away from home, he’d be inspired by those very same grimy car parts to create a business that’s growing today by leaps and bounds—even during these pandemic times.
Ben Harvey and his wife Chloee started Ben’s Auto Décor (B.A.D.) in 2017 that basically turns scrap and old auto parts into furniture, household items (toilet paper holders!), lamps, corkscrews and bottle openers, clocks, art, and anything that Ben sees a use for when he looks at a pile of discarded automotive metal. It began when, at his current job as a mechanic at British Sports Cars, he eyeballed some scrapped parts off an Aston Martin V-12 that he said were “… still totally usable. I thought I could make a coffee table out of them,” he shared, but added, “My wife wasn’t totally on board with the idea at first. Some friends helped me out—it took a while—but once it was in our living room, she loved it.”
As did his friends, both guys and gals. He later fashioned a piston into a clock for his nephew in England. “People from both sides of the Pond liked it,” he said, noting that with a baby on the way, he and Chloee, who has a background in customer service and office management, were looking for a way to bump up the family income a bit and thought they might be on to something. “It’s gone way past that,” he explained of the quick success B.A.D. has enjoyed while admitting it was a bit beyond his business acumen. So, they ramped up their website, marketing, and social media skills as the piston clocks and a new product, spark plug bottle openers, were flying out the door.
From there, Ben and Chloee have a developed a brand that is known for its art as much as its function. All pieces are one-of-a-kind and made completely from repurposed materials, which they believe is a cornerstone of their product. Their website, www.bensautodecor.com, showcases a video of Ben in action: welding, handcrafting, polishing, and finishing the items.
Currently, Ben works three days a week at British Sports Car and essentially the rest of the week in his home-based workshop in Atascadero. “We fulfill all our own orders and ship all over the world; we have customers in Europe Australia, and China,” he said. Best of all, he says of his work schedule: “I love it! It’s fun.” As his business grew from a shed in the back yard to a decent-sized shop on their property, Ben says he continues to grow his clientele and has products in local shops such as Paso Robles General Store and Sculp- terra Winery, as well as online and wholesale.
“I’m passionate about quality,” he professes with conviction. “I try not to compete with price, and I find we get really good reviews.” Ben spends a lot of time searching online and traveling around the state to find used, scrapped, and discarded car parts. Like any artist, he says inspiration happens when it happens. “I’ll have a pile of parts sitting there for a year and can’t figure out what to do with them.
But then, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and have the perfect project in mind,” he said. Typically, the process involves finding an engine, bringing it home, taking it apart and deciding what finish to use: rustic or patina with a clear coat. He drops the parts into a hot tank cleaner with pressurized hot water, then sandblasts with glass beads for an even finish. He then polishes and cleans the parts again, depending on the desired look.
Not a one-man job, it’s common for family members from England to pitch in. It’s definitely a family affair as Ben still has close ties with his family in Devon (southwest of London). They own a mechanical repair shop, Moors Garage, that is purported to be the “Oldest Repair Shop in the World,” with records showing work on horse carriages going back to 1815. “That business is part of why I became good at working on cars and taking engines apart,” he said. “I had three sisters and so I liked being in the corner by myself,” he said. “But I love them now,” he laughed.
About 12 years ago, Ben traveled to the US and a friend took him to a party in Templeton, CA. That’s where he met his future wife Chloee. They struck up a long-distance relationship for two years and when they decided to marry, Ben moved to the area. With qualifications as a certified mechanic and experience working on British cars, he easily landed a job at British Sports Cars in SLO. He even restored an “old mini” (Cooper) himself.
Ben and Chloee, who was born and raised in Atascadero and whose family lives nearby, have two children, three-year-old Morris and seven-month-old Camilla (Millie). As a family, they hike, bike, and enjoy the beaches and their two cats Wallace and Grommet. Ben, who grew up in climes where rainfall and winds are high and temperatures are cool, says he loves living in California. “The weather is perfect, lots of sunshine, access to mountains and beaches, and the people here are generally very friendly.”
As a side project, Ben’s restoring an “old 1959 English taxicab” and says while he’s pretty busy with kids, work, and running his own business, he also likes playing the piano and guitar. His new venture, he says, gives him a great sense of accomplishment. “I love the ‘art side’ of the auto industry,” he said. “When you repair a car, well, people don’t usually like when they pay the bill. In the art business, they get what they want and are happy. That makes me happy.”