Most dancers might be found grabbing a bite or a nap between performances at the height of Nutcracker season. Not San Francisco Ballet's Jordan Hammond. The corps member renovates furniture in her spare time, a hobby that has morphed into a fledgling business called Rénové. At first, she rented extra storage space that doubled as a workshop. "It was on the same street as the ballet," she says. "I'd sell pieces during breaks between shows." Now married to Diablo Ballet dancer and former SFB corps member Raymond Tilton, she uses their living room for her projects.
Hammond's furniture fascination took root while watching house-renovation shows and visiting antique shops in her Southern California hometown, where she began dancing at Ballet Pacifica. She attended her first summer session at SFB School at 15, but didn't accept artistic director Helgi Tomasson's offer to join the year-round program. She received good training at her local studio, and her social life at home was also a draw. "I had just finished my freshman year of high school and I still wanted that experience. I thought, 'I would stay if I was a trainee.' " When Tomasson offered her that coveted traineeship a year later, Hammond didn't hesitate to move upstate in hopes of joining her dream company. Halfway through her second year, she earned her corps spot.
Hammond first took paintbrush to hand when she moved out of SFB's student housing. While furniture shopping with her mom, she was attracted to an old bed frame from an antique shop and knew that she could revive it with a fresh coat of paint. "A lot of pieces have really beautiful bones, and all they need is just a little love."
She picked up the skills needed to achieve her visions along the way. Each piece gets a thorough cleaning and sanding followed by paint, plus the occasional whimsical addition. "I love replacing the handles," she says. "Those are like the jewelry of a piece." Hammond sources her projects' materials through flea-market browsing or "treasure hunts" throughout San Francisco. With her personal network, it didn't take long to receive her first commission, followed by sales through Craigslist ads and flea-market booths.
Yet renovating furniture in a small city apartment presents challenges. Hammond has to take her power tools out to the sidewalk, and use chalk-based paints, which don't give off dangerous fumes. Such learning curves have given her a process-oriented approach to her dancing, as well. "We focus so much on the final product, which diminishes the enjoyment of being in the studio every day."
At SFB, some of Hammond's favorite roles are ones she watched as a student and later performed in the company, like Christopher Wheeldon's Ghosts and the aristocrats' dance in Tomasson's Swan Lake. She also relishes being part of the choreographic process. In the future, she hopes to take part in the National Choreographers Initiative summer workshop, and be a canvas for artists like Val Caniparoli and Edwaard Liang.
Dedicated to her dance career, Hammond is happy to let Rénové grow over time. But she's ramped up her social media presence and is thinking of starting an online store. The ultimate dream? To open a brick-and-mortar location, a place for people to wander in off the street and be inspired by unique furniture pieces with past lives and fresh coats of paint. Hammond has also come to realize that what she loves most about custom furniture is what she loves most about dancing: It's human. "It's not perfect and it's just the way I want it to be."