He taught himself to play the harmonica. He’s a connoisseur of English literature, and he appreciates the artistic side of construction. You could say Ben Smith is a versatile kind of guy.
The 2004 graduate is president of Smith & Leidig Living Spaces, an Abingdon-based, full-service design, construction and land sculpting company, a career Smith began after dabbling in several other opportunities before finding his niche.
Smith and his business partner, Nico Leidig, specialize in creating outdoor living spaces for their local customers -- decks, patios, pergolas, walkways, small retaining walls, fire pits and water features, just to name a few. During the past two years, they have constructed an outdoor sand volleyball court and a fire pit with surrounding patio on the Emory & Henry College campus.
“I view our business as a synthesis between home building and landscaping,” said Smith.
“We are the guys who design and build the confluence of your interior, structured, geometric home life and the wild chaos of nature. We like to build structures with organic curvature and elements that are congruent with the surrounding environment. We aim to enhance the area we construct on the outside of their homes.”
Smith said they’ve been fortunate to have some imaginative clients with challenging projects.
Instead of changing only the curb appeal, their work often takes them to the back of houses where their clients like to entertain and enjoy time with family and friends.
After graduating from Abingdon High School, Smith attended Hampden-Sydney College for one year before moving to Blacksburg, Virginia, to work for Randy Williams, an architect and home builder.
In 2002, Smith enrolled at Emory & Henry College and pursued a degree in English literature. After graduation, he was a member of a local band, Virginia Ground, playing the same harmonica given to him while working in Blacksburg.
He got good at it and made a living with his music before the band split up in 2006.
About the same time, Smith learned his good friend, Rachel Fowlkes, had hired TreeHouse Workshop, a building crew from Seattle, Washington, to build a large tree house on her Abingdon property.
Smith asked if he could work on the project, and what started out as a good learning experience wound up as a training opportunity. Smith enjoyed the work so much that he moved to Seattle to continue working for the business that offers interactive training courses for people wanting to learn how to build tree houses from scratch.
During the two years in Seattle, Smith estimated he built several dozen tree houses for customers.
“They had a fairly different approach to building that was more sculptural in a way. I’ve always liked the act of sculpture,” said Smith, who wanted to incorporate the artistic style into his functional creations.
In 2008, Smith returned to Abingdon, where he was raised, and set his sights on starting his own business.
When I was still at Emory & Henry over a decade ago, and nearing my graduation in 2004, people kept addressing me as an artist. Being of a fairly pragmatic nature, I never would have thought this of myself, but Professor Jim Harrison and his wife, Aliese, explained to me as I was working on their rental property (in which I was living at the time) that I am more of an artist than I might think, because I would rather have a perfectly beautiful and functional shelving unit crafted than be able to cook an egg. I suppose that they were probably correct.Ben Smith
Business is good for the Smith and Leidig, who complete jobs in the Washington County area, including Bristol. A portfolio of their work is available for viewing on Facebook.
Smith realizes his company may never have happened without the education he received at Emory & Henry. “Communication is the most valuable thing with which Emory & Henry helped me. It’s a skill I use more than any other.”
When Smith gets the chance, he still plays the harmonica, which he learned by ear.
He and his wife, Jenny, are parents to two young children, Leah Katherine and Holston.