Thursday, October 8, 2009

carving a videpoche leg

Making a "vide poche" table takes some hand work. That is part of the reason I like to do them. My work is about having my hand be involved in the process and distinguishing what I do form factory made items.

Here is the process for carving a leg for the vide poche table. Above is the nearly finished leg sanded to 150 grit. It will get a final sanding to 220 and then the "finishing" process starts. I hope to show my finish and metal leaf process next. These photos are in reverse order, because I am not technically proficient enough to figure out how to change them. The whole process takes about 10 - 15 minutes per leg.

These are the tools of the "trade" for my carving the legs. Straight chisels, rasps, riffler rasps, sculpting rasps and sandpaper 80-220 grits.
This stage is after the finish rasping and the shape is almost there.
The legs has been rasped with the sculptural rasps to a very close approxiamtion of final shape. It is important to not take off too much to allow for finish rasping and sanding.
This is what the leg looks like after the chisel work. It still needs alot of refining but the basics are there.
This is as far as a machine can take it. At this stage, it has been turned, band-sawed excess and a bit of machine sanding to get the blank to a stage where it can be worked on by hand.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shop snap shots Sepetember, 2009

Well here is the virtual shop tour. If you were to come into the shop front door, you would be greeted first by Gus. He loves everyone who comes into the building. It doesn't matter whether you deliver the mail, are a salesman or are a designer. He will jump up on you and I will be telling him not to. He is completely unaware that he was acquired from the "Pound" to add a sense of security to the front office manager's life.
He did have to exhibit an extraordinary level of patience to be photographed and after what must have been at least a hundred photos, this is the one that the photographer apologetically offered as the best of the bunch. Every time she snapped the lens, he would look at me or away. Everytime she was not ready to shoot he would look at her. It was too consistant a pattern to be mere coincidence. He is toying with us - as usual. I am sitting on a first generation Katharine chair.

The vide poche legs are carved at the top and the bottom as they are not a straight cylinder but taper out. The middle section is done on a lathe. But the top has to be carved with a chisel and rasps and finally with sandpaper.

A spoke shave is also useful for roughing out the shape. It is one tricky tool that really depends on your feel. Its kind of like a peeler for cucumbers in the kitchen. You don't want to be pressing into the flesh, just setting the knife at the correct angle and pressure to shave off a skin's worth. The spoke shave works that way but also has to be in accordance "with" the grain.
It might be more dangerous to use a chisel or other hand tools than power tools. You have to be mindful of where your pressure is directed and where you fingers are located. But a good sharp chisel is less dangerous than a dull blade because you don't have to press as hard and therefore are more likely to cut the wood efficiently.
The vide poche bodies are constructed as "shells" and then veneered. The drawer fronts are glued up out of solid poplar that has been resawed and glued into a curve and dovetailed to the sides which also serve as runners. In the foreground are the zebrawood and striped mahogany bodies awaiting the drawer fronts to be veneered. The legs are made separately and attached with fasteners after being finished.
Below you can see a completed custom Mabel ottoman, ready to be shipped and more vide poche bodies. In the back by the chop saw is part of the dust collection system. Every machine has a pipe running to it to collect the dust.

The spray booth has fresh air intakes and an exhaust fan. Even though it "moves" a large volume of air, the flow has to be softened by filters so there is not hard draft against the work which would cause the finish to harden over a skin before the underneath area has dried. We currently use a very low VOC lacquer based product that meets strict European standards for fumes, but are also exploring the new generation of water based lacquers. Above, I am using a gravity fed touch up gun to create a "tone" on the Mabel bench base. The base is finished separately from the metal leaf trim.
Examining and rubbing a Katharine chair ready to be shipped to the Chicago showroom for a floor sample. The chair was designed on paper and then in plywood and underwent several generations of technical changes to the upholstery system to get it just right.
These are "blanks" of walnut ready to be shaped into Mabel legs. They are glued up into 4" thick and square sizes as most lumber is impractical to obtain in that size to start with.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Taking the mystery out of a custom sofa's cost

I know that costs are extremely opaque to most people when it comes to buying furniture and understanding what they are getting. Recently I had a customer approach me about a custom made sofa. Then, this morning I read a blog that I follow, expressing outrage about seeing a $7000 sofa in a store and being "lectured" about why the cheaper ones were not worth it. Obviously it is not a great sales technique to hector your potential clients. I'm not sure if the cheaper ones were "worth it" or not - maybe they were. But if you want a custom made sofa, and you want it to be sustainable and well made, a $7000 retail number is not a scam and not far off where it will cost. (of course deals can be made and are always done off of that number) Here is my response to the blogger:

"I always enjoy your blog posts. However, your latest post got the blood flowing this morning. Here's the deal: If you want a couch made in Vietnam, China or wherever Ikea makes sofas there are lots of options between $500 - $2500. Some of these are more or less well made and some are not. Some use solid wood and some use particle board for the frames. Some use screws and some use traditional jointery and glue. There is such a variety of quality out there that unless you have hard information it is difficult to know how well the sofa is made. I don't believe an Ikea couch will last 30 years. A good sofa - meaning constructed the correct way with solid wood and a high quality suspension will last that long or longer. Its a personal choice about your budget of course and everyone has to make that call. But in regard to your outrageous $7000 sofa, here is why, in very nuts and bolts terms: If I make a sofa custom made and in the USA, it is also going to be a green or sustainable product as well as lasting a life time. There is no way I can produce a sofa for under about $1500 including frame, suspension and upholstery labor. Add materials - about 20 yards for a good size sofa - and at a modest $40 a yard you have another $800. Now the cost of the unit is $2300. That is my manufacturing cost. Add 25- 30% for mark up and you have a wholesale number of at least $2875. You figure retail doubles at least the wholesale cost and has to add in shipping and now you have a retail cost of about $6000. Not too far off your number that you thought was outrageous. I understand that not everyone can afford a $6000 sofa, but if you want one made of the highest quality, you want it made in the US and you want it to be sustainable, that is what it costs. This is not a rip off or a scam. This is what US manufacturers have to charge in order to survive. Otherwise all of our manufacturing will be gone. You will not have a choice of anything to buy that is made in this country. This is the challenge I face every day in educating my clients. This is the challenge I face in trying to sell next to cheap imports. I pay my workers a decent wage and they get health insurance. As a consumer you have all the choices in the world."

John Strauss

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Section of an old apple tree. Photographed by by step-daughter Lisa Ohlweiler on a 4"x5" camera. The apple tree was planted over 100 years ago to feed horses that were pulling out timbered hemlocks in the NY valley where I have a home. The bluestone in the porch comes from the hills behind the home. The wood comes from the forest. The shoe comes from Israel.

Click on the picture for incredible detail.

I have seen bears eating the apples from this tree. I have walked in these woods and have seen some of the huge, solitary, ancient hemlocks that once covered these mountains. It is an act of imagination to think about what these woods in the Catskills once looked, smelled and felt like.

On my last walk up into the mountain, I found a wild bees' nest high up in the crotch of a hemlock tree. There was a cloud of bees high above my head going about their business. There is always something to discover in the woods. One evening my wife and I sat quietly as dusk approached and witnessed the deer coming out of the woods. They sounded trumpet like snorts to each other when they were surprised to happen upon us.

The region timbered hemlocks for one reason: to strip the bark of the tree and use it in the tanning process. There was a tannery in our town, the Phoenix. Horsed pulled wagons of logs out of the valley and over mountains to the Delaware river and to the railroad. Today there are old apple trees, mostly abandoned scattered throughout the valley. You are likely to find deer there in the late summer munching on the drops. And as I discovered one day when I walked underneath a tree, occasionally a bear over your head.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The House of Tomorrow

I recently attended the NeoCon World's Furniture Market in Chicago, and on the way back to Ohio my wife Dominica and I stopped at the Dunes along the East side of Lake Michigan. I was reminded of a mystery I had started to investigate a few years back in an attempt to find out more about "The House of Tomorrow", created for the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago as one of several concept homes. The architect for the "The House of Tomorrow" was George Fred Keck. My personal connection to the home is that the interior designer of the home was my Great Aunt Mabel Schamberg. She was the inspiration for the "Mabel" collection in my design line (

below: The House of Tomorrow at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair.
Entrance to the airplane hangar is at the bottom right.

I had wondered if there were any pictures of Mabel's interior design work and what had happened to the home after the Fair.

below: How the home looks today. It was moved following the World's Fair to the other side of Lake Michigan in an attempt to develop a luxury retreat area for the residents of Chicago near Michigan City, Indiana.(For an excellent summary of the homes from the Fair and their move to Indiana see the website link within
that will bring you to a PDF file:)

Judith Collins and Al Nash; Preserving Yesterday’s View of Tomorrow
- The Chicago World’s Fair Houses
and from their article:

"After the close of the Fair in the fall of 1934, five of the houses were sold to Chicago real estate developer Robert Bartlett. He brought them by barge and truck to the Indiana dunes, hoping that these and 10 other structures relocated from the World’s Fair would entice buyers to his resort community of Beverly Shores, IN. ... In the ethnic neighborhoods of Chicago, he promoted
the resort with its theater, restaurant, and golf course as part of the American dream. Chauffeur-driven Packards picked up dream seekers at the Beverly Shores railroad station.
Bartlett intended to furnish the five World’s Fair houses, open them to the public, and sell them starting in October 1935. However, his dreams were never fulfilled. By 1938, only one house —the House of Tomorrow — had been sold. Seasonal renters occupied two houses, and two were vacant. Prospects for the houses and for the development became even bleaker with the approach and outbreak of World War II. By 1946, Bartlett had sold off his interests in the resort; and in1947 the community incorporated as a municipality . . .

The steel and concrete structural system of the house was originally assembled at the Fair site in only 48 hours. Its most prominent feature is the floor to ceiling “curtain wall” of glass used to enclose the second and third floors. Chicago architect George Fred Keck defied mechanical engineers who said that due to the expansive use of glass the house couldn’t be heated. Just the opposite occurred. The predicted amount of winter heat loss was far surpassed by the actual solar heat gain, resulting in the failure of the home’s revolutionary air-conditioning system in the summer. When Bartlett moved the house to Beverly Shores, he replaced the glass walls with operable windows to allow for proper air circulation. Keck later became a leader in developing passive solar heating through research and residential design. . .

The house offered a kitchen with state-of the- art gas appliances 'calculated to bring joy and satisfaction to the housewife' . . . In addition to a garage, it boasted an airplane hanger since futurists in 1933 assumed that every family would have both an automobile and an airplane."

We investigated this area a bit on foot- beautiful beaches and the dunes are eerily quiet and inviting and by car which led us up to nearby Michigan City. I remember as a child taking a boat ride over to Michigan City and spending the night on board in the harbor. The area has many ingredients that could have made it a wonderful tourist destination, being so close to Chicago and yet feeling worlds away. However, planners have permanently (it would seem) sealed Michigan City's fate for the worst.

The downtown is virtually abandoned and rundown despite many cool looking older buildings. There is a strip mall to the East that has all of the typical stores and restaurants. But there are two larger strikes against M.C. that I don't see in every otherwise potentially great tourist destination. 1) There is a prison right in the middle of the town.

and 2) There is this lovely attraction hovering over the town:

Monday, May 25, 2009

furniture, chickens, architecture and sustainability

What do chickens, architecture, organic gardening and sustainable furniture have in common? We are committed to green or sustainable furniture at work, but we also take those principals home with us. Our ideals are not an 8-hour a day job. This is a little story about what happens after hours at home.

Building furniture takes a certain kind of mental planning and rigor. For one thing, plans have to be made and each cut on the saw or pass on the shaper must be set up to get the precise result. I was trained as a sculptor, and so I occasionally look for the informal process of building with a goal in mind, but in a manner that allows for improvisation along the way. Backyard architecture is one of the activities that I enjoy for this reason. I would not plan a house this way (at least I don't think so) but a chicken coop seemed like a perfect project to tap into that energy. After clearing the legal isssues on keeping chickens in a city, the only hurdle was how to satisfy the requirements of these birds that I had never before kept.

I wanted to create a triangular structure and also be able to reuse playhouse components that were no longer needed when my kids had outgrown their little "house" that I had previously built. The mental plan included a sloped triangle and a post-modern feel. But it also had to be useful. One of the features I thought to build in was that the front wall where the chicken entry door was located would swing open entirely so that my daughter could get access to the interior for cleaning. The free range chickens bed down on wood shavings that come from my shop. We don't have to dump the wood waste in our trash which is an important component to our sustainable pledge. If we were a much larger operation we could sell our wood waste, but we don't create that much.
The coop has an interior room that contains the roosting bar and a nesting box with a lower level where the droppings drop for easy cleaning. My wife "plastered" the interior with a mud plaster over an insulation board so the chickens are safe inside over the Ohio Winters with only a light bulb as a heat source. The floor is raised off the ground to be resistant to rodents and easy to insulate. I wanted to reuse as much material on hand as possible so I utilyzed scraps of wood from a demolished deck, corrugated roofing leftovers from a storage shed project and the before mentioned playhouse parts like a window and siding. It also had to look "decent" and "neat" to fit into our suburban property as much as possible, and cause minimal distraction to the neighbors (not sure if we have achieved this).
(Egg access door is small but visible just under the roof above) The exterior room contains the feeder and waterer with room for the girls to walk around if we want to secure them behind the chicken wire fencing. But there is no grass or plant matter growing "inside"the pen and they love to roam outside in the garden and on the lawn looking for seeds and bugs. They provide fertilzer to our organic garden as well. The eggs are a deep shade of yellow-orange. I understand that the dietarily important omega-3's are naturally high in eggs from chickens who are allowed to range over green plant matter like grass. Not all free range eggs are created equal!

Perhaps the greatest benefit to raising chickens, designing a coop, recycling wood waste and obtaining organic free range eggs rich in Omega-3's is not any of those issues but the fact that my daughters take care of these chickens as pets. They have learned where (some of) their food comes from and have taken a role in contributing to the house hold. Having the "job"of taking care of "livestock" gives them a sense of responsibility beyond the care of a dog or gerbil. They have a pet who performs a useful role in their lives, which they especially appreciate when I serve them Challah French Toast on Saturday mornings.
We started out with three hens; a Rhode Island Red, a Barred Rock (pictured with my daughter) and an Americauna. The Red died over this last winter from some sort of infection at the age of two but the other two have just been joined by four peeps who are still living inside under a heat lamp as they are only about a week old. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by some time for some eggs!

Friday, May 1, 2009

HighPoint Furniture Market

I just returned from Highpoint, N.C. after spending two days visiting the furniture market held semi-annually there. I went there for the first time to check out the market and see if it is right for our Company to show there in the Fall- October market. Unlike Las Vegas, one of the chief benefits of the Highpoint market is there isn't anything else to do there other than attend the market. No gambling and shows. So the buyers who attend are serious about checking out the possibilities. This was a significant lesson in why Highpoint should be a good fit for us. As this was my first market, I had nothing to compare it to but all of the veterans said "it is nothing like it used to be". That may be, but I found the traffic in the "Interhall" area to be significant and interviewed several of the companies that exhibited there. All were reporting solid sales and leads. They were universally encouraging. My interest was piqued. There is a strong possibility that I will be exhibiting there in the Fall and was invited to the Interhall area. There was a nice sense of camaraderie.

The other factor that was hard to miss was the surge of popularity for Sustainable and "Green" products. The Sustainable Furniture Council, which we are members of, planned several cool events and many vendors are now members and are using their logo. (See our environmental policy on our website for more info:

There was a "green drinks" social networking evening held at Cisco brothers showroom in a renovated mill building and which is a very cool space.see Cisco renovated a 100 year old mill into a series of showrooms. Their furniture is all sustainable and has been very successful. I met financial planners with environmentally friendly investment strategies, a major lumber company executive who is encouraging sustainable forestry within their company, a contract furniture company president who talked to me about potential for working towards sustainable projects, and a free spirited veteran of the industry who has been constructing scenarios for the Sustainable Furniture Council to vault into the next level of popular consciousness. And the hors d'oeuvres and drinks were fantastic too.

I also listened to a panel on social networking and sustainability. All the electronic forms are inherently sustainable as they don't necessitate the cutting of trees. I learned from their anecdotes how Twitter especially (which I can attest to as well) can network you with like minded companies and people in your industry. All Twitter is is a conversation, just like you might have at a cocktail party with others, except that it is taking part on the web. Because it is digital and available on the net, messages can spread at a geometric rate. That can be both positive and negative, but it is incumbent on a company to monitor and participate so that they can have some control over their company's reputation. All messages on Twitter are stored and searchable through Google, so they have a life beyond the moment of the "Twit". Companies need to be in control of who is putting out their message and never "trust" it to someone who has no investment (spiritually) in the Company.

Lastly, as a Northerner, it is a lot of fun to travel through the South and listen to accents from Virginia, North Carolina and Alabama. These are sounds I don't normally get to hear and they remind me that our country really still has regional cultural differences despite the national penetration of Target, Wendy's, Pier 1 and ToysRUs among others. On my way back I stopped in a little diner near the Blue RIdge Parkway in Virginia and had a biscuit and great tasting grits. I could barely understand the fishing talk overheard between the chef and the patrons, but the food and atmosphere couldn't be beat.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sustainability and Survivability

We are members of the Sustainable Furniture Council. We believe in using resources wisely. We recycle our wood waste and our water bottles. We are always looking for materials that are less harmful for the environment (and for us). Tomorrrow, for example, a salesman I know is coming by to talk about water borne finishes with me. We haven't converted to them yet because the industry has not been able to produce a finish with the same aesthetic and durability qualities as lacquer. Water borne finishes also have solvents in their formula. I will be interested to see what they say and what the product looks like and what it is made of. We will not compromise our quality. And the lacquer that we use meets the rigorous European standards for HAPS and is considered a low VOC product. Acetone is not considered a VOC, by the way, which doesn't mean you can freely breath it. When a lady is getting her nails done and the nail lady is not wearing a respirator, you do wonder what is happening to her lungs. But perhaps you understand why acetone was excluded from the VOC list.

I have contended for the longest time that the most environmentally friendly thing you can do in purchasing furniture is to find a local or US maker (assuming that you are the consumer and are also in the US) and buy a product that is built to last generations. In the same logic that recycling is good, but it still uses lots of energy - while re-using is better as it doesn't have to convert matter to another form and therefore uses minimal energy, buying furniture built locally to last generations is much better than buying "Green" furniture shipped across the ocean and built to last ten years. The latter will then have to take up landfill space or be burned. The former has a small carbon footprint.

We try to build things that last. That means basically doing two things: Firstly, choosing materials of a high quality, such as solid wood, kiln dried to the proper level of moisture. Secondly, it means paying close attention to joinery. A good joint should not need a great deal of glue to successfully bond. Staples and screws will always fail before a good glue joint will. I have looked at a great deal of antique furniture that needs to be repaired. You learn a lot by examining these joints. Chairs built from turned parts with dowel joints almost always fail because the maker didn't understand wood shrinkage and the joint had to rely on the glue. Nakashima ( was one woodworker who knew how to fit the joint and then shrink the wood before joinery so that the wood would expand to lock the joint together. A good dovetail joint almost needs no glue to be solid. Same with a mortise and tenon. But I have seen countless joints come to me after desperate repairs with screws, dowels, etc. in a last ditch attempt to save a chair or some such thing. Crafted quality will last and takes up no landfill space.

We just had a potential customer switch to a product made in Asia, rather than buy custom made from us. The reason was money. The imported product is of vague provenance and of non described materials. In a photograph, the import looks great. In reality, when it arrives, how will it look? When will the day come that quality and the environment play equally weighted roles?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

tuning your scraper

I wrote recently about a cabinet scraper. Its a tool that is so useful on a daily basis and yet many a contemporary cabinet maker doesn't know how to use one, let along how to sharpen one. I hope that the following is not too much information for those who are never going to make furniture. It is my hope to give you a sense of what you must do to keep your tools "tuned" in the shop. Sharpening tools is a necessary part of the making of cabinets and furniture. It is also of course a viable metaphor for what we all have to do in our lives. It takes "away" from the making of the "thing" but without keeping our tools sharp and ourselves, we would struggle and fail to accomplish our goals. So here is a basic primer on sharpening a cabinet scraper.

The sharpening is accomplished on a maintenance basis using a hardened piece of steel attached to a handle. Think of a screwdriver without the "business end" still intact and that's the idea. They make burnishing tools that are for this purpose too, but the French craftsman I trained with had just a modified screw driver handle and shank. You have to be able to hold the tool while exerting some force on the edge of the scraper and also the steel has to be at least as hard as the steel in the scraper. There are two essential motions that one performs. This is assuming by the way, that the scraper has already received an initial dressing with a file followed by a sharpening stone. The first movement is to go across the scraper like one would do with a barbers blade on a stropping strap. Back and forth across the flat scraper in the same plane as the flat orientation. It helps to be doing this on the surface table of a machine. The goal is to create a little burr that "grows" outward ever so slightly but in line with the scraper. This motion can be repeated many times, as the more the metal is moved here the better the final result will be (within reason). The second motion is a one shot deal that occurs for all four edges that will cut. Two per long edge, one on each side. The burnisher is held at almost a right 90 degree angle to the scraper , but tilted ever so slightly toward the flat, at about a 80-85 degree angle. The scraper has to be held flat on a preferably metal bench part of a machine such as a jointer, with about 1/4" of the tool protruding away from the edge of the machine. You must have a very firm grip on the scraper pressing down and on the burnishing tool pressing against the scraper. You get one shot at this and there is no going back unless you want to start over. Hold the burnisher low so that you don't cut your hand against the edge of the tool! Start as close to the far corner as possible and pull towards yourself while pressing against the edge at a constant 83 degree angle (approx!) and that is it. Repeat 3 more times on each other edge. You will get a burr now pointing up that you can feel with your finger. When you slightly bend the scraper with your thumbs in the center while holding the outside edges and press along a piece of wood you should get very thin shavings of wood. If you are producing dust, it is not sharpened properly or you are not holding the scraper properly. If you are trying to follow along and do an actual sharpening, good luck and I hope I gave you enough information! I'll be happy to answer questions and welcome your feedback.

Monday, March 23, 2009

phantom pain

In response to a friend's question about a note that I had lost a part of my finger in an accident, I wrote: I lost the tip 8 years ago in a wood machinery accident. It was a jointer and I lost the finger down to the first knuckle but luckily in this case (luck is relative), not so far that I couldn't still fully bend the finger. I experienced excruciating electric shocking like pain that occurred at random moments and a persistent throbbing pain that was made better by elevating my finger so that (because this was the middle finger) everyone thought who didn't know me that I was "giving them the finger" (I wish I had the finger fully to give). The pain lasted for months and months until I realized one day about five or six months after the accident that the pain was no longer from the "source" but imprinted in my brain. Then with the help of a friend who is a doctor interested in alternative medicine, he guided me while I hypnotized myself and accessed that part of my brain circuitry that was causing the pain. I visualized that area of my brain like it was an architectural plan, and I was fixed in finding the "control room" and found it with massive amounts of electrical gear and "breaker" switches inside.  I felt myself entering that room and I walked up to the correct breaker and threw the switch into the "off" position. The pain disappeared and has never come back.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One of the stamps of approval that many end users of furniture are looking for today is "FSC certified" wood. From their website: 

"In many forests around the world, logging still contributes to habitat destruction, water pollution, displacement of indigenous peoples. . .Many consumers of wood and paper. . . believe that the link between logging and these negative impacts can be broken, and that forests can be managed and protected at the same time. Forest Stewardship Council certification is one way to improve the practice of forestry."

I have worked in Ohio with a local Amish lumber yard that buys all of its wood in the region to find a way of certifying their product. They recently (after much prodding) were happy to report to me that they have been certified as an "Appalachian Hardwood Lumber Producer" and produces lumber from a 344-county territory that is a certified "Sustainable Hardwood Forest" as defined by the AHMI (Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers, Inc.) and based on research data from the United States Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis "that shows net annual hardwood growth rates have exceeded annual hardwood harvest levels in the AHMI territory over the past 50 years."

I am pleased to have been at least one purchaser of their product that nudged them in this direction and also pleased to reassure the customer that this is one additional area we are dealing with in our efforts to be sustainable.

Friday, March 13, 2009

There is a new magazine in North East Ohio. They "discovered" that there is a furniture maker producing a national product here in their backyard.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I visited the atelier of another furniture manufacturer while visiting LA yesterday. The main craftsperson has a fascinating life story of travel from Armenia to Lebanon to France to Italy to France to the United States. The thing he hated about France and loves about the US is that even though his French was superb college level conversational and reading, and his English was barely functional upon entering the country, he was looked down upon in France and was well received and respected here. "Old" Europe still persists in its discrimination  and yet also acts as a library of trade skills that are quickly disappearing here. I was trained by a French furniture maker. A cabinet scraper is an essential everyday tool in traditional craftsmanship. Sanding was strongly discouraged because it added hard to remove dust to the work before the advent of compressed air. A scraper, properly sharpened can leave a finish equivalent to 320 sandpaper or finer. This Armenian-Lebanese-Italian-French craftsman also swears by his scraper. When I moved to Ohio from New York, I didn't meet a cabinet/furniture woodworker who knew how to use a scraper, much less to sharpen one. Hand skills like these are not just useful for the arcane demonstration of "antique" methods but also are critical for many steps of the way we work with wood in our shop.

Monday, March 2, 2009

I recently had an invitation to create a guest blog entry on a Chicago area blog for Chicago businesses. I am based in Ohio. So, I did say the following: I have Chicago roots. I was born there and four of my great-grandparents lived in Chicago. My Parents and Grandparents were born in Chicago. My Father had a furniture showroom there until he passed away in 1979. My Mother and Great-Aunt were Interior Designers in the City. My Great Aunt Mabel Schamberg designed the interior of the "House of Tomorrow" in the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. My furniture is represented in the Merchandise Mart. And last but not least I am a life long White Sox fan.

Friday, February 20, 2009

One of the biggest issues we faced at the Las Vegas Market show and in general is pricing. We make a product in the United States, we make it the old fashioned way with a great deal of pride in the craftsmanship, we make it to last, and we make it as sustainably as possible. This is not inexpensive. Is it worth it to the customer? Does anyone care about these issues? It is hard to believe so, because there is so much made in Indonesia, Vietnam, China and in Latin America that does not have our qualities and yet sells well. We have not lost faith in finding the people that care about these issues, and we are also looking for alternative ways to lower our costs. It isn't easy feeling like the lone wolf out there. There is a "sustainable" section of the Market, where companies can display their product. Many of those also came from overseas. How long before people question the energy/carbon footprint to bring these products over the ocean? We are going to be here and keep going at it. Please let us know if you have any thoughts.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Las Vegas Day four and five

There is excellent entertainment at the trade show and its not the mariachi band nor the Aretha Franklin or B-52 imitator bands that they hired. It is the people watching and the strange things you can see. One day a booth behind us that had some upholstered furniture was visited by a designer. She decided to have a seat in the lounge chair. Next thing that everyone noticed was that she had fallen asleep in the chair. She stayed in that position for 45 minutes and many people were snapping phone pictures of her. The owners of the booth were just hoping that she didn't drool on the fabric. Yesterday Steffi Graf was walking around. I'm not sure if she actually designs anything for Kreiss but her and Andre Aggasi's names are on a line of their furniture. When the show was wrapping up, in the final few minutes that they were open and lady was walking aroung asking if there were show samples for sale. When she came by my booth I told her that everything was for sale at deeply discounted pricing. She said she was hoping for "free". I thought that was a lot of nerve, acting like a vulture on the last minute of the show to see if she could furnish her house for nothing. There were cowboys and blonde bimbos walking around sometimes with each other and sometimes not. There was a man in a ski hat and sunglasses walking around inside, and we weren't sure if he was here to steal the furniture or to shop for it. We served champagne and chocolate and some of the other vendors thought we were providing a service to them rather than attracting potential customers. In the end, we are not sure how the show has been for us because there weren't any actual sales made. In the next few months we will find out if the experience and the cost was worth it. But it was entertaining.....

Trade show day three

The foot traffic is down and the days are long because there aren't a great deal of potential clients to talk to. This is a hard problem for everyone to deal with. You can see the optimists and the pessimists splitting quite quickly as a result of this. There is one vendor we call Mr. Sunshine that has something negative to say about any subject from the oatmeal at his hotel to the husband of a potential client and he calls this trade show the most dreadful he has ever seen. We talked to another vendor who is disappointed to have taken in only $60,000.00 in orders so far -which far exceeds the amount that anyone else I have talked to has done. We have not done so well in objective measurements but I remain hopeful. We have made many contacts and potential future clients. We have mad many connections and networked some interesting possible innovations in the way we manufacture our products. I hope we have spread the word about our product, its quality, its being made in the US and its green qualities... Tomorrow is the last day and we are keeping our heads up.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Las Vegas Day two

In the Las Vegas Trade show booth again today, I have been faced with the reality of the global economy. We produce everything by hand in Ohio, the United States and do it at the highest standards of quality and material integrity. This is an expensive way to produce furniture. It makes our pricing "high end", but not necessarily our profit. At the trade show there seem to be as many people who want to sell you things as there are people who are potential customers of yours. Several of the first category have approached me and propositioned me on the potential of having our product made in Vietnam or Indonesia or India. I know that we live in a global economy and that most of the production for furniture today is being made elsewhere than in the US. One of the US based production companies here - they have a factory in California - put together an ad for the World Market Directory and listed the companies that make their product in the US. It is a small list that is here. We are on it with 29 other companies. I cannot count how many companies are exhibiting here. These salesmen are offering to make a product that costs me about $1200 to make in Ohio for $75 in Indonesia or Vietnam! How do we say no to these temptations and talk people into the importance of buying from domestic producers? I am searching for options to make things in our geographic area with a larger production to bring the cost down. Our company is located near the largest Amish furniture making section of the country so that may be where we head for solutions.....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'm sitting at the Las Vegas World Market Trade show this week. Today is day two. Trade shows are strange beasts, each attracting different types of crowds. One gets to know the vendors around you as each day you are standing in your booth for ten hours hoping for a sale or two. This show has been as slow as the summer show where we didn't end up selling anything. I am hoping for a good remaining three days, or we probably won't be back here again. The neighbors fit into certain categories: there is the crazy guy who doesn't really fit in and who ends up doing annoying things to you during the week like talking incessantly to you while you are trying to flag down the high end designer walking by your booth and avoiding the annoying booth neighbor. There is the foreign company that doesn't speak much or any english and whose ideas of marketing and graphic design is to stick some 8" x 11 1/2" copies from Kinkos on the walls. There is Mr. Sunshine who has something negative to say at almost any turn and on any subject such as being charged $60 for a breakfast of oatmeal at his hotel. The first trade show I did in Chicago, there was a company whose main salesman threw stationary items in the air and in the directions of attendees. We finally had to call security because he was scaring away everyone. I have seen cowboys and blonde bimbo designers here. There many Canadians and Mexicans. The Canadians are bummed out about the current status of the exchange rate which is not in their favor. I'm not sure what the Mexicans are shopping for here that they can't get produced in their country. More tomorrow....