Jim grew up in Massachusetts, went to school at Amherst College, and, with some stops in Austin, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh, landed in Brooklyn in 1990. He was a third grade teacher and high school Geometry teacher at St. Ann's School, each for six years. While teaching math, he began to make devices to demonstrate geometric principles. Inspired by forms and working with his hands, he began to learn cabinet and furniture making, working primarily in Maine and New York. He spent eight years at City Joinery, a custom furniture studio in Brooklyn, and became the shop foreman there. Jim Totten Furniture opened in 2011 and is based in Red Hook, Brooklyn, NY.