Around 2008, our then marketing director (Alison) asked me to design a mid century modern collection. My initial reaction was “yuck. Why?”
Not exactly the creative response one might expect. After doing a lot of homework, I developed a concept of what this would be and how it should look. I got more and more excited about the design, and the complexities of making something appear so simple. However, the reality is that you do not make an entire “collection” overnight. What do you start with, and what comes next?
We were trying to come out of being pigeon holed as “those Arts and Crafts guys”. While I will say we do Arts and Crafts very well, we are also able to work in several other periods. This was really the catalyst for developing the collection that became known as The Linnaea Collection.
I started with the living room, specifically the sofa and chair. I knew the coffee and end tables would fall into place. Getting a sofa to both look good and feel good to the masses is pretty challenging, and everything else would be driven by its design.
I had compiled a group of individuals within the organization we called “the design team”. Before this, designs had always emerged from customer requests or wild hairs. We had not fully developed a collection in this manner. The design team consisted of me, my marketing director, her assistant, a craftsman from the shop, and a new designer fresh out of college.
While not every design is catalyzed by an elite design team, every one of our designs has a story behind its evolution. In a couple of weeks a new design emerges created by a new “dream team”…stay tuned.
Meet Shirlington Showroom Manager, Larry Northrop. Larry first started working for Hardwood Artisans in 1981 after meeting founder, Greg Gloor in a local sub shop. “Greg had a pencil behind his ear so I said to him, ‘you must be a cabinetmaker’.” Larry went on to say that things just evolved from there.
Larry originally started in the shop as a craftsman’s assistant helping with custom pieces, and then later transitioned to sales. He has now worked on the sales side for the last 12 years. Larry says that both the sales and shop sides of Hardwood Artisans have their benefits but he truly loves designing pieces for customers. “My favorite part is turning customers’ ideas and wants into a reality; however, I do miss instaling pieces in customers’ homes. Installation is everything, the instalation makes or breaks the project.” says Larry.
Even though Larry has designed or contributed to the design of a few standard products that we offer at Hardwood Artisans, including the Sofa Wall Bed and a new product that will be showcased in December or January, his favorite piece he has ever designed was a custom entertainment center. “This project was challenging. The hardest part was figuring out the engineering of the articulating arm that held the TV.”
To view a video of the Custom Entertainment Center click here.
Outside of Hardwood Artisans Larry enjoys backpacking and spending time with family. Larry has 5 kids, 7 grandkids and 2 great grand kids. Some of the coolest places he has ever backpacked include Indian Run, White Oak Canyon, and Big Meadows. Larry’s motto when backpacking is “take only pictures, and leave only footprints”.
How do you say “have a safe journey” Waterfall Urban Reserve Chest? In French?
I like that the word Waterfall translates to cascade in French.
We recently made another Urban Reserve Empress Chest for a customer. It was beautifully selected materials. The piece was exceptional, as it should be. Our Urban Reserve collection are high figured curly maple cabinets, limited production, signed and numbered, with a proprietary finish.
We made this cabinet for a gentleman who worked at The World Bank, and he and his wife were retiring and retuning to France to live (as they are originally from there, and their children and grand-children live there).
Their names are Jean-Michel and Yoyo. They are moving back to Chambery, France, in the French Alps. It is near Savoy in the Southeast section of France. I took the time to Google it. It looks simply lovely there.
Jean-Michel and Yoyo were down in our Shirlington location, just killing time before seeing something at the Signature Theater, when they were compelled to buy the cabinet. They have left for France as of this writing, and are aware that it will take up to six months for the crate/cabinet to clear customs in France.
Apparently this is normal for the French government. There is a large concern for endangered woods (verification and origin), and even the crate material is scrutinized. This scrutiny all plays into the sustainability equation, so even if it is a pain for us to go through, it works toward the greater good for everyone.
Jean-Michel has promised pictures of the piece in its final location. We will have to wait and see. Until then, prendre soin de mes meubles (take care of my furniture)…..ya’ll.
I am convinced that you can’t look forward without looking back, even if it is only in the rear view mirror. Some will debate this, but how do you know how far you have moved if you don’t have a point of reference?
The original Murphy Bed company sadly closed their doors after like a gazillion years. Actually, the first Murphy Bed was patented in San Francisco in 1900, and the New York plant based on Long Island stated production in 1926. Not a bad run, but sad to see the original group fold.
As a result of the closure, we have to work something out to make a newer model mechanism work. Dimensions need changing, pivot points need consideration. It’s a whole thing, but a good thing in the sense that I have wanted to change the design of this product for several years now, yet I never really had a reason. Now, I have designed a completely new Murphy Bed cabinet system, entirely out of necessity.
We are yet to have a slick name for the unit, so for now I have given it the very unimaginative name: the Bi-Folding Bookcase Murphy Bed. Someone please help me here! There will be more to come about the name game….
While the name may lack imagination, the design is great. It incorporates four bookcases that act as the doors to cover the bed unit. These bookcases pivot out and wrap around to the side of the Murphy Bed cabinet. The center of the middle two cases have the side cut away, thus creating a nightstand shelf when the units are open, similar to our Library Wall Bed system.
The real beauty is the size. I have incorporated 6 small bookcases in this design, but am only taking 99” of wall space for a queen sized bed, nearly three feet smaller than the Library Wall Bed system. This has been a big issue for customers – more storage and less space. The new design required me to make the cases taller, hence gaining even more storage space vertically.
My goal is to have this unit built for the Lemonade Social as its premiere debut. What is left is the actual engineering, which the shop (Kevin, Curt, and John) needs to work out. As anyone will admit, just because it looks good on paper doesn’t mean it works……Stay tuned.
I spent an afternoon a few weeks ago having a lovely chat with Julie Gunderson, the manager of the Washington Post Magazine. She mentioned this event coming up, and would we be interested in putting something of ours in their SWAG bags? After a few questions, I wholeheartedly said “yes”.
Julie was then talking to me about how the event would be promoted. She mentioned My Little Bird. I told her I had no idea what that was, to which she promptly opened a Washington Post Magazine to my ad, and right next to it was an ad for My Little Bird! Man, I need to get out more.
There are several posts on My Little Bird in the Lifestyle and Culture section talking about the event. Since then, I have signed up for notifications, and have read and enjoyed several articles. There was one in particular, about Keswick Vineyards. I had just been there for an intimate barrel tasting that I thought was very educational and fun. Great wines.
Well, ten days and 350 cheese boards later, we delivered our part. I think Erin is seeing stars.
I then received an invitation from Julie to the event. This is a $250 per person event put on by the Cultural Tourism DC, so I was honored to go. It was in the Ronald Reagan Building in WashingtonDC. I took my girlfriend, and we had a lovely evening. Of course, it took almost 2 hours on a Thursday night in thunderstorms to get there, but well worth the trip.
I am happy to say that I picked the winning Embassy Chef, Thailand. It was complex and wonderful. The strangest thing I had that evening was from the Russian Chef. It was a salmon ice cream with caviar…………it tasted exactly like you think. I chased it down with a coriander infused liquor from Norway, which was really good, but probably not the best thing to chase fish ice cream with.
As a result of my experiences, I am a big fan of My Little Bird, JulieGunderson, Embassy Chefs, but still not fish ice cream. I’ll work on that.
I have often referred to managing craftsmen as being much like herding cats. It is an almost impossible task. The thing that makes these guys and gals so damn good at what they do is the exact same thing that drives a manager crazy! There is a tremendous energy within to create something. To create something new, better, unique, special. The conflict emerges when they try to change the thing the customer has ordered because they want to make it “better”. Sufficed to say it is never boring at the shop.
Occasionally, one of these craftsmen creates an exceptional piece that is made for sale. We want to highlight these pieces, and perhaps the craftsman along the way. Whether you realize it or not, several of the pieces in our custom books are actually pieces that our craftsmen made for themselves. We liked these works of art so much that we wanted to show the public the best of our free range kitties…….okay, enough with the pet analogies.
Talking to a craftsman about their craft is always difficult. It is rare to find an artist who speaks confidently and comfortably about their work. Most are introverted, and undervalue their abilities. Financially, this translates into a good thing for consumers and bad thing for craftsmen. There are few artists who successfully get to that pinnacle of fame and fortune in their lifetime.
In his book Outliers, MalcolmGladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. I agree with this completely. I can distinctly recall having worked for Hardwood Artisans (The Loft Bed Store back then) for about 5 years, and coming into work one morning with an epiphany that I was just now understanding what I was doing, like the proverbial light bulb just turned on for me as a furniture maker. Mind you, at this point I had 12 employees under me, and I was responsible for producing half of the volume we were doing at the time. To come in after 5 years and only then believe I was just starting to understand! Wow. That would have been something like 12,000 hours of practice, but I am a slow learner.
I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate.
I have the privilege of meeting all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. I enjoy finding out about my clients and what they do and know. You can always tell when someone has mastered something. They make something complex sound and feel simple and easy to understand.
Shown here is a piece one of our craftsmen created. It features our Waterfall design for the cabinet, and the craftsman created all the art glass as well. Inside, there is LED up lighting and down lighting controlled by a touch dimmer to show off the art glass “flames”. The case has three glass adjustable shelves inside, and a finished back on the outside. The case is built in Ash wood, and has a natural finish applied.
About the art glass, when I asked how long it took to create, the craftsman responded “hours and hours and hours and hours”. I guess it took a while. There are 96 pieces of glass in each panel. He estimates he spent 56 hours to create the art glass panels.
If you are interested in seeing this piece, it will be on display in our Shirlington store soon. If you are interested in art glass work in general, call any of our stores to make arrangements to commission our craftsman to create your masterpiece.
I have a dirty little secret. Very dirty and very secret. It has been going on since I was about 10 years old. As a child growing up in what was once the farming area Dranesville (now Great Falls, VA), my buddies and I would go to old farm dump sites and dig for hidden treasures. What could possibly be better than rummaging through 60-year-old trash, finding all sorts of curious and unidentifiable tractor parts, old leather shoes, and used cans of Spam. Without a doubt, I would end up going to the medical center for a tetanus shot as a result of some piercing metal object. Man, do I miss doing that stuff.
The result was my interest in soda bottle collecting. Specifically, I collect painted label, or ACL (applied color label) soda bottles. A lot of them date from the 40’s through the 70’s, back in the day when you would get a refund for the bottle, and it was used over and over again. The ACL was a technique that allowed for multiple cleanings and case wear.
I like the period look the bottle labels and shapes that were created, all in an effort to invoke a response from the consumer. I like the weird marketing they were trying to create. It takes on a very Mad Men sort of feeling. It’s just cool to me.
I have been buying additional bottles on eBay in recent years. While I have enjoyed this to a point, it really is not the same as digging for them yourself. Half the fun of collecting the bottles is the stories and scrapes and bruises that go along with the collection. A collection is not about what you own, but rather about the experience of acquiring, sort of like the process of collecting fine furniture. I think a lot of people come back because of the positive, engaging experience they have with us. Well, I would like to think that, but it probably has more to do with the fine furniture part.
One of my favorite bottles, and the one I paid the most for, is a 1939 7-Up bottle. It is brown, squat, and the product claimed it had medicinal values. It is very cool, and one of the earliest ACL’s known to exist. It is simply glorious, well, to a nerd like me anyway. Memories of Bucks Country Store in Great Falls, collecting discarded bottles off the side of the road for refund (and subsequently candy), hiking through the woods on some strange adventure in search of something old, something nostalgic, are all a part of me, and my bottle collection is merely an extension of that memory.
I have decided that I want to spend the time to go treasure hunting on my own. I have been doing some other research, and there have been a lot of talks and YouTube videos on privy digging, you know, like digging up old outhouse locations. Lots of bottles found their way to the bottom of those holes, nestled in a soft blanket of ……well….. Like I said, I have a very dirty secret.
Since about 1977 we have been making the Platform Pedestal Bed. This classic Danish Modern bed has been done and re-done by many furniture makers. I still believe we do it better than most.
The first versions were doweled together at the corners, running a series of dowels through a mitered corner diagonally. The slat supports (what held the bed up) were doweled through the band as well. The effect was a series of small round dowel peg ends seen from the outside of the bed bands.
We made a few changes, and settled on essentially a version of how we do the bed today. The corners are mitered still, but we use a butterfly dovetail spline to connect the corner. It is a bit more time consuming to fabricate, but the joint saves time in the end as it requires only light clamping and sanding after. The bed slats use a dovetail rout that is stopped inside the band. We also have changed the connector that holds the band after we “split” it into two section for moving. We have been building the band of this bed the same for 25 years. It is still our most popular bed.
Something that has changed dramatically over the years has been the headboards that connect to the bed. These headboards have gone from a simple plain headboard to an elaborate wall unit tower/slope headboard with connecting light bridge and scalloped shell work in the hatch doors.
When I first started working at Hardwood Artisans, I made beds (and only beds) for two years. We made three beds at the time: the Loft Bed, the Trundle Bed, and the Platform Pedestal Bed. I have probably built a couple thousand of these beds over the time in the shop. Perhaps I built yours.
I remember back in the early nineties working with GregGloor on an Arts and Crafts style entertainment center for a customer named Dr.King in Potomac, Maryland. It was interesting because it was an exact match to a very nice original armoire from the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The reason I can remember this piece with such clarity after more than 20 years is because of what no one else knows except me and Greg. An error was discovered after the unit was assembled. The opening was too small. Now, it did have a large (4 inch) wide face frame. For eight hours I used a hand saw to cut the face of the cabinet down to increase the opening. My arms took on a Popeye quality! This became a terrible but memorable and successful day in my otherwise repetitive woodworking career.
The most amazing thing about Dr. King’s piece was that it was huge – I’m talking 5 feet wide, 8 feet tall, and 2 ½ feet deep . It took four of us to carry it into the house. It was designed to hold a 52” diagonal projection TV that was actually mounted on a TV swivel. We had to bolt the cabinet to the wall to keep it from tipping over when the TV was pulled out.
We participated in a home show shortly after we made Dr.King’s piece. Greg, with a little help from me, made this colorful unit. There are 7 or 8 different woods in the piece, creating an eye-catching effect. This unit was designed to hold, well, just about everything. This throw back is to all the old monster sized entertainment centers of the 70’s , 80’s and 90’s that have since been repurposed into pantries, armoires, and shelving units.
I am reminded of this entertainment center often as I design new furniture pieces for customers. I use it as a reminder that I never will design furniture around specific technology if possible. Printers are the worst! Never design a cabinet around a printer. In two years it will surely be in the recycle bin, and something a third the size will be in its place. It is difficult and not always possible in this world of technology, moving at warp speed, to know what is on the horizon. Sometimes the luddite in me tells me to just go lay down….
I met Julie Taboh of Voice Of America when she came into the Rockville store one Saturday about three years ago. She wanted to do a story on Hardwood Artisans. She is a lovely, kind, soft spoken woman who is hard to say no to.
Fast forward about two years and 49 months later…..she got in touch with me to actually do the story. Seeing her schedule and story lines, I can see how our story would get buried pretty quickly in the pile. This time, the story’s angle took a modern twist.
“How does a high-end furniture company survive The Great Recession, when 90% of the furniture businesses have gone under?” We have gone through several recessions since 1976. This one has been the hardest, deepest, and the longest to boot.
I didn’t fully answer her question about surviving the recession. I suppose the single best answer would be that we survived by doing right by the customers. We did this by never compromising on quality, happily handling problems, and extending ourselves to accommodate the particular needs of our customers. It shouldn’t take a recession to wake a business up to these basic points of customer service.