Having the Smithsonian in our backyard is real gift that most of us take for granted. Not only do we get great exhibitions like the Greene & Greene show I wrote about a few weeks ago, we also have a ton of educational opportunities and experts right nearby.
Take today, for instance. I got an email from a customer wondering what to do about a Nakashima dining table she needs restored. She wanted to know if we could help her with it. Now, we’re pretty good, but we’re not conservators. Though I’ve had a lot of luck having my own flea market finds refinished by our expert finishers, I think even they would hesitate before taking on a Nakashima table.
The reason I knew this was that I went to a Smithsonian program last year about American craft where they gave some auction estimates for Nakashima, Maloof and other modern studio furniture makers’ pieces. Some were, to put it mildly, astronomical and sometimes value can be hurt by refinishing.
So rather than send her the name of our standard refinishing guy and call it a day, I decided to find the phone number for the Lunder Conservation Center at the Smithsonian and see if they could recommend someone. Thanks to the Smithsonian’s Twitter person, I got a name and a phone number and met a very nice woman named Julie who put our customer in touch with their conservators. All this took less than half an hour.
So lucky me. I get to make a local phone call the little museum in our backyard and put our customer in touch with some of the foremost furniture conservators in the world.
Nakashima dining table (not the customer’s)
I was reading an interesting article in the local paper about the American chestnut restoration efforts. The article by Alice Felts, in the Fauquier Times Democrat, discussed efforts by the students, teachers, and arborists to re-introduce a new chestnut tree that is 15/16th’s American chestnut, and 1/16th Asian chestnut. The Asian chestnut was the source of the blight that killed all the American chestnuts. As of this writing, the article was not up on the web.
This introduction seems a bit like allergy treatments. They inject you with a bit of the thing that is the problem so that a natural immunity can occur. The efforts by The American Chestnut Foundation, http://www.acf.org/ is very interesting as to how to ever so slightly alter the genetics of the tree to allow it to grow once again. The American chestnut has been described as the “Redwood of the East”, a giant of a tree that created huge eco-systems almost single-handedly. Its nuts fed whole communities of wildlife, and its wood a prime source of naturally rot resistant building material.
I’m thinking I need some chestnuts in my forest………
Two weeks ago, I made it out to the Renwick Gallery to see the Greene & Greene show. After some slight confusion on my part as to where it’s actually located (hint—it’s right behind the Old Executive Office Building), I was quite pleased with the quality of the exhibition, but since I had gotten lost, I didn’t have enough time to read everything before the museum closed for the night.
Not only did they have a great collection of letters and photographs, they also showed some of the original architectural plans. The level of detail the Greenes went to on those plans was quite OCD—plans for all the lighting, furniture, stained glass—very much in the vein of Frank Lloyd Wright. These were architects with Vision.
As usual though, my favorite part was the furniture. Of course, pictures can’t do it justice. It’s so difficult to reproduce the glow of wood photographically, especially when you add 100 years of patina. So here are some of the highlights courtesy of the Gamble House website.
Charles Sumner Greene
Breakfast table, 1899
Douglas fir, cedar, oak, mahogany, and birch
Wedding present for his wife, Alice
Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York
Greene & Greene
Desk chair, ca. 1905
Adelaide A. Tichenor house, Long Beach, 1904–05
Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York
Greene & Greene
Hall chair, 1907
Mahogany and ebony
Made by Peter and John Hall
Dr. William T. Bolton house, Pasadena, 1906–07
Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York
Greene & Greene
Bookcase, ca. 1912
Mahogany, ebony, and glass
Made by Peter and John Hall
Cordelia A. Culbertson house, Pasadena, 1911–13
Los Angeles County Museum of Art,
Gift of Linda and James Ries in memory of
Dorothy and Harold Shrier
Photography © 2007 Museum Associates/LACMA
Most of these pieces are from their early to mid-career, but what surprised me most about this later piece was how modern it looks. Take away the leaded glass and it really starts to look more like part of the Modernist movement than the Arts & Crafts movement.
All in all, the best way to see these pieces is in person. So if you’re anywhere near DC, I highly recommend that you check out the exhibit before it closes on June 7th. Here’s the Smithsonian page on the exhibition, with a link to the online exhibition produced by the Gamble House.
Anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows that I love Etsy, the online marketplace for vintage goods and crafts of all sorts. In the spirit of The 3/50 Project, today I thought I’d share some of my favorite local Etsy sellers and introduce you to a neat feature Etsy implemented a while ago called Shop Local.
Here is Jason McClellan of Sidewinder Studio, who also works here at Hardwood Artisans.
And Annie of imogene., who made the tree-shaped earrings customers always ask me about when I wear them in the showrooms.
We’ve talked about supporting local businesses here on the blog before. In fact, the business that we originally featured (Black Wolf Coffee in Warrenton) has just announced that it is shutting down for good.
Mark is, to put it mildly, heart-broken.
It’s such a sad fact of this economy that the first to go will not be the local Starbucks or Barnes & Noble, but that wonderful independent bookstore you love (as beloved Washington chain Olsson’s Books and Records closed last year) or the coffee house where they always remember what you order and start making it for you when they see you pull into the parking lot.
Enter The 3/50 Project. Started by Cinda Baxter at the Always Upward blog, the 3/50 Project asks supporters to commit to spending $50 per month at three local stores of your choice. It’s such a simple concept, but look how powerful it could be:
I’ve signed up. So should you.
You and I may be doing fine, but with unemployment at over 8%, a lot of people could use a little extra help right now.
An article in our local paper (the News and Messenger, not the Post) down here in Woodbridge underscored the need for giving what you can right now, especially to food banks.
For several months now, Hardwood Artisans has had a partnership with ACTS (Action in the Community Through Service), a Dumfries, Virginia-based non-profit organization. It started with a furniture donation drive over the holidays to support their thrift stores.
Next month, Hardwood Artisans will be hosting the Prince William Regional Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours at our workshop in Woodbridge. We have requested that those attending bring a non-perishable food item for donation to ACTS. It’s a small thing, but every little bit counts.
So if you’re attending, don’t forget to bring that canned good! And if you’re not, consider dropping by a local food bank or church. They’ll be happy to take your donation.
My lovely wife, Erika, has been laying her clothes on the bathroom floor for the last few weeks. No, she hasn’t gone insane, at least not in the traditional sense of the word.
When we built our home eight years ago, we added a few “luxury” things, like a heated floor system in the master bath. We had some problems with the system initially, so we didn’t use it much until this year.
So, I got up this morning to 12 degree weather, snow and ice everywhere, and winds of 30mph. After taking a ridiculously hot shower – the kind that takes skin off, I hop out to slide into warm socks…and jeans…and shirt. There is very little in this world that is better than the feeling of being engulfed by warmth, especially on a morning like this one.
I felt bad having splurged on a heated floor and the electricity it consumes, until I remember that my lovely wife, Erika, has yet to turn on the heater this year! The wood stove is working overtime for sure. Tabby, our cat, really appreciates the heated floor too.
While it seems like an unnecessary cost, the actual cost of running the heated floor is about the same as leaving on a table lamp. This versus the cost of running a heating system in a house makes the heated floor seem like a good, not so luxurious, item to splurge on.
While many people consider our furniture a luxury, I never have. I consider it a good value. To me this means something that lasts, is appreciated often, and has more value for the purchaser than the cost of the item itself.
The web is a funny thing. Some days I can’t find what I want and I think all this online stuff is just a big waste of time. (I sound like Mark, don’t I? No, this is Alison.)
But other days, I think it’s great. (That’s better.)
For those of you who don’t know, Hardwood Artisans is also on Twitter. What’s Twitter? It’s like a blog, but everything has to be said in 140 characters or less. It’s an interesting mode of communication because it requires you to be concise. Sometimes I feel like I’m back in 11th grade English with Mrs. Avery telling me to eliminate all flowery language. No adverbs! No infinitives! If you use “however” or “anyway” you will be shot!
Anyway, this week, I sent one of Tom Heath’s Washington Post columns over to a guy named Ben McConnell, who wrote “Creating Customer Evangelists”. He then sent it out to all the people who read him as a great example of marketing coverage by mainstream media, giving me credit. If you’re a rock music fan, this is like being acknowledged by Mick Jagger or Eric Clapton. Wow.
Next, Mark was trying to design a piece of furniture for a customer that involves round legs. Since we don’t usually do round legs, we were going to have to buy them from someone who does, but we couldn’t find an appropriate supplier. Luckily, I happened to have met someone on Twitter a few weeks ago who does hand-turned wooden furniture legs: Within just a couple of hours, I had a drawing, I had a price and they told me they could mail them out today if I wanted them that fast. Wow again.
Just when my faith is lagging, something like this happens and all is right with the world again.
P.S. You can follow us on Twitter @furnituregirl.
For years and years, our founder, Greg Gloor, worked with a lumber mill to purchase quarter-sawn sycamore. Above, that’s a picture of what quarter-sawn sycamore looks like at its best. Between us and another manufacturer in Vermont, the mill hoped to be able to sell enough of this not-very-popular wood to make drying it in quantity a profitable operation.
However, sycamore is hard to dry. It is prone to what is called “blue stain”—an infection in the wood that cause the surface of the board to turn, essentially, blue—and a couple of loads of stained wood killed the market. Stained wood of this type becomes virtually useless, as it isn’t pretty enough for anything but painting. The mill couldn’t get the prices they needed as a result and stopped the production of quarter-sawn sycamore.
We went through a period of time trying to cobble together enough stock from other suppliers to keep using it as a secondary wood in our drawers and an accent wood on other pieces, but only about five percent of the mills in the entire country quarter-saw lumber, making it very difficult to secure the quantity we need at a price we could afford.
We tried valiantly, but in the end, we had to give up. Ash is cut by many more mills and is competitively priced so finally, the Board decided to make the switch. We’d been phasing out the sycamore-sided pieces over the last year or so, but it has been taking too long so we finally decided to sell them off all at once.
We’ve also got a few pieces that have discontinued fabrics on them or that have been in the showrooms for a while. Click over to the floor model list and see what treasures you can unearth for your home!
It’s not often that I run across a company that I would love to work for. In fact, it took me almost ten years of working various places before I found my spiritual home at Hardwood Artisans.
Today I read about VIDA, a fitness company with three locations in the DC metro area, none near me all the way out here in the suburbs. This is a company that gets it, probably because they have a CEO who gets it–he has a passion for working out. I can relate. I’m a bit of a workout fanatic myself. I love to play softball, have had personal trainers at various points and really, truly enjoy working out.
To be honest, I don’t so much mind that my gym focuses on selling cheap memberships, locking people into long-term contracts and banking on the fact that most of them will work out for a month then never come back. It means that the gym isn’t crowded (yes, the resolution crowd has already dispersed), but it’s also not terribly honest. The gym knows they make more money when people don’t come back.
But VIDA does the opposite. By basing optimal profit levels on a certain (lower) number of memberships sold and focusing on giving those members great experiences, they have created a tremendously loyal following of people who love to go there and increasingly put other aspects of their lives under VIDA’s control (nutrition, laundry, spa services). It’s called the “lifetime value of a customer” and it’s something that not enough businesses focus on.
Even though the reporter focused on the business aspects of VIDA’s model, there’s a moral aspect as well. When you sell to someone who you know isn’t coming back, you’re not doing that person a service. When you sell a membership (or a product) to someone with the express purpose of making sure that they love it so much that they absolutely have to come back, you’re adding something to that person’s life.
We do the same. When a customer who has come to us before comes back, not only are we able to provide increasingly good service, we’re developing a real, human relationship. And what’s great about working here is that I can sit around all day thinking about how to offer better service instead of how to make more money. That’s good for everyone.
Now, off to the gym!