Svetlana Daneva CA ’21, CF ’23
Carpentry ’21, Cabinet & Furniture Making ’23
When/how did you discover your discipline/field?
I grew up around it. I was born and raised in Bulgaria, and both my grandfathers were woodworkers and carpenters. I was always helping in their shops. It was never something that I specifically went after; it was just part of daily life growing up.
When I moved to the States, I kind of lost touch with it for a bit. I didn’t really speak English, and I was working in the restaurant industry. Over the years, I’d help friends repaint or sand a piece, or put something together. All my friends know I’m handy—if someone needs anything, they think, “Oh, Svet can do it!” But I never thought that one day I’d be a carpenter or a furniture maker.
In 2017, I was pregnant with my first child, and my fiance (now husband) was living on the Virgin Islands while I was living here full-time. We were traveling back and forth, and the plan was we’d move there permanently after the baby was born. When I was 37 weeks pregnant, Hurricane Irma hit the island, and we lost everything.
We had already had the big baby shower and had everything set up down there; I had shipped all our things. All of a sudden, I’m 37 weeks pregnant, and we are homeless and jobless. My husband’s family is from here, so we stayed with them for a bit, but we literally had nothing.
So I started browsing Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for furniture. I gathered free or very cheap pieces and began sanding and refinishing them. They were all gorgeous, massive, real-wood pieces. The only things we bought were a couch and a mattress. Everything else I gathered. Working on that brought me back to being a lot more hands-on.
We still urgently needed somewhere to live, but unfortunately, nobody wanted to rent to us because I had no recent pay stubs due to being on bed rest and my husband’s place of employment had just been blown to nothing. We eventually found a listing in Watertown and explained the whole situation to the landlord. He gave us the apartment, and we signed the lease the same day I delivered my daughter.
How did you discover NBSS? Why did you choose to attend the School?
When my daughter was two years old, I saw a news segment about the School. I had never even known something like North Bennet even existed. I immediately went on to the website and thought, “This is amazing.” I signed up for an information session and Rob O’Dwyer, Director of Admissions & Enrollment, presented about the programs. After that, I scheduled a time to tour the school.
For my application, I created a portfolio with pictures of all the furniture pieces I had refinished for our apartment.
The plan was to do the Three-Month Furniture Making Intensive over the summer and then begin the one-year Carpentry program. 10 days later, the Covid lockdown happened. It was unknown territory for everyone, and Community Education classes were canceled. But that’s been my whole life; I make no plans anymore. I just roll with whatever comes. I find it always works out!
Can you name one of your favorite experiences in the program?
At graduation, they placed the diplomas on a card table I made in the two-year Cabinet & Furniture Making program, which I enrolled in following the one-year Carpentry program. That table had been such a struggle to make because I started working on it around the time I found out I was pregnant with my second. I was tired, nauseous, and sick all the time. It was tough—very stop-and-go.
It was a proud moment when Claire Fruitman CF ’96, Provost, announced that I had made the table holding the diplomas.
Can you describe the NBSS community in just a few words?
It’s a family—incredibly supportive and open. They are all amazing humans.
Let’s talk about your instructors. What have you learned most from them?
We spent so much time together; we work shoulder-to-shoulder. In carpentry, you work together. So it’s not as formal as any other student/instructor setting. You spend 40-plus hours together per week, so you become friends. It’s not a formal setting. It becomes like a family. Any issue, no matter what aspect of life, my instructors always offered help.
Also, I’m a little bit type A; I want it done and perfect. So for me, it was a process not to be frustrated with myself for not getting everything perfect the first, second, or third time. The instructors don’t make you feel like you failed; they’re incredibly supportive. They’ll say, “Keep going, keep trying.” They helped me accept that training your hands and acquiring these skills takes time until you have that muscle memory.
What are some ways you have felt supported at NBSS?
I have felt supported in every way. When I first enrolled in 2020, both my partner and I were working in the service industry and lost our jobs with lockdown. So when I got an email from the School about making my first payment, I reached out to Rob and explained that we’re currently both out of a job, everything is on hold, and I don’t think I can afford this right now.
A couple of weeks later, Rob called me and said I was a great candidate for need-based scholarships from North Bennet. Rob and Jamie Dergay, Director of Financial Aid, also encouraged me to apply for a mikeroweWORKS Foundation Work Ethic Scholarship. I won that for the one-year Carpentry program and again when I decided to enroll in the two-year Cabinet & Furniture Making program. It was an incredible help; the foundation was absolutely amazing.
Without the School and the mikeroweWORKS Foundation offering me support, it would not have been possible. I basically had a full ride that first year. Besides paying for tuition, all the supplies and tools I needed were covered.
Can you describe your work in just two or three words?
My goal is to make functional pieces that will be honored and last for generations.
Besides working in your field, what else keeps you busy?
We just bought our first house. So between graduating, packing, and moving with a five-year-old and baby on the way, there’s not much free time!
What motivates you?
I’m a doer—I can’t sit around a lot. And making things is awesome. You start with some raw piece of lumber that you bought from the lumberyard, and in a week, it becomes something. It’s very cool.
What’s next for you?
There’s going to be a little mommy break, probably for six months to a year. After that, ideally, I would move into a community shop with like-minded people. For now, I have my home shop with equipment to work on smaller pieces.
This story is from our Summer 2023 issue of Benchmarks magazine. View more stories and issues here.