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