Joe Manus – Furniture Designer Extraordinaire

Joe Manus is a resourceful guy. When the real estate bubble burst taking his high-end construction business with it, Joe saw an opportunity. Using his eye for aesthesis, he moved from designing high-end boutiques and nightclubs to creating modern furniture. He launched his business, Shiner International in 2010.

Shiner furniture is for consumers looking for something different. Edgy but practical, simple but intelligent, dark but beautiful; these modern designs are unique and undeniably cool. They’re also highly eco-friendly as all materials used were once destined for the landfill. Joe’s talent lies in his ability to envision what many see as junk as part of something beautiful.

Joe speaks with us about his career to date and his passion for modern, eco-friendly furnishings.

One-on-One with Jo Manus, Owner & Designer of Shiner International

How did you first get into designing modern furniture?

I grew up in rural Georgia. I didn’t go to my first museum till I was grown and didn’t page through my first design magazine till I was twenty. I didn’t go to school for design. As a matter of fact I went to 10th grade twice. I’m not saying all this to elude that I am a dumb individual. I’m saying this to illustrate that I am in a field where I am grossly undereducated and designing trends in an industry that I for all of my life have been under exposed. This has given me a very raw and uninfluenced voice in the design world.

I grew up with little money and resources but had a Father and Step Father that were good and making things. They weren’t strong imaginers but they were damn good at making how to’s. My Step Father, Hal Cain always told me, “The real power in the world is not money, status or rank. The real power is in the hands of the man who can formulate an idea and has poised himself in a position, with a skill set to make the idea become reality”. That may be better phrased than he said it but that’s the gist. So the reason I got into designing modern furniture is a serendipitous alignment of my experiences and surroundings; it's me.

When the real estate bubble burst and upended your construction business, was it difficult to jump from designing high-end boutiques and nightclubs to designing modern furniture?

I have always been a fake it till you make it kind of person. My confidence has always eclipsed my skill set; this has opened many doors for me as you can imagine. I grew a nice high end construction company in Atlanta Georgia named Art Through Labor Inc. or ATL Inc. We specialized in night clubs, retail boutiques and selective unique home construction. We thrived for a decade until the housing market crashed. Like so many peers in the business our clients stopped developing new businesses and inbound phone calls fell quite.

At this point in my life and business life, 2 separate things if you are smart, I fell unaligned in a crossroad. My choices, stay in business for 2 more months and lose my shop, my machines and my employees. Second, become a career criminal specializing in advanced criminal thievery OR take my last 2 months of rent and payroll and roll the dice on my dream; become a famous furniture and lighting designer. I chose option 3 for obvious mystery of the unknown reasons. At this point I had a goal but felt like I had nothing else, because I was blinded by despair. I was overlooking the obvious things at my disposal. I had a shop, I had dedicated man power, I had a CNC spindle router and best of all I had my over-zealous confidence. That confidence was key. I found that, though hard work, starting something rapidly in a hell Mary fashion was really easier and more heart than building my construction company over a long stretch of time.

What made it easier? Building Shiner was something I was not only good at but I was passionate about. That one distinct difference made the experience core heart instead of just another process.

One-on-One with Jo Manus, Owner & Designer of Shiner International

Where does your inspiration come from?

I mostly rely on found form. This comes in the form of a silhouette of just about anything I see. I am hyper visual and see things in unrelated things. I hope this isn’t stated too simply but Einstein said “ if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

All the materials used to create your furniture were once destined for the landfill, is this eco-friendly business practice driven by environmental ethics or is it a design choice?

I chose to work with up-cycled wood, metal and cardboard for my designs. I didn't have the capital to buy new materials so that was really a choice of necessity. That choice was also key to my successes. It was a budding niche at the time, so to answer your question properly, I call myself an accidental environmentalist.

One-on-One with Jo Manus, Owner & Designer of Shiner International

What is it that attracts your customers to your designs?

I think patrons are attracted to the thing they are unaware of at first. Their anthropology tells them there is something so sensual and familiar about my work. The materials I use like cardboard, plywood, steel and hardwood are things they have seen everyday of their life but when assimilated in a different order they become something rich. I think people see a part of their story in my work.

What is your definition of Luxury?

Luxury is not defined by class or status. To me, it is a relative term; it is defined by desire and need for that desire. It is a primal want. To a desert nomad it is a water pool, to a child it is that special toy, to an old man it is time. When we finally get that thing we so desire, we are shrouded with a cloak of Luxury. Desire= Approach= Possess= Luxury

One-on-One with Jo Manus, Owner & Designer of Shiner International

Interview Conducted by Charlotte.

Charlotte Claxton

Charlie is a freelance writer who specialises in travel, luxury and food. Having earned her chops as a staff writer for international travel brands and digital marketing companies, she now writes for freelance clients and runs her own travel blog. Charlie grew up in London and has since lived in Canada and Australia. She currently writes from various cafés, hammocks and beaches as she travels the world, bringing LuxeInACity readers first-hand insight into the best luxury experiences worldwide. Get to know Charlie better at