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Thread: Craftsman furnituremaker

  1. #1
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    Craftsman furnituremaker

    I'm wondering if the small-ship craftsman furniture shops are dwindling or going the way of the shoe repair man. In my town, (on Cape Cod) we still have a reasonably-priced, competent furnituremaker, and several high-end, commission-only artists-craftsmen, kept alive mostly by the local old-money community.
    I was just looking at a 90's 'Home Furniture' mag, chock-full of small-shop craftsman ads. Are these people still around? They're not easy to find online. Has Ikea killed them?

  2. #2
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    IKEA isn't killing anything, no one forces customers to go there. It's the lack of customers willing to pay higher prices for hand made work as the middle class dwindles and getting older. Custom cabinet shops aren't needed now, as CNC controlled machines can cut any different size part with the slightest change in the program. So big manufacturers can send you any size cabinet.

  3. #3
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    I recently finished a small, shaker table. It's made of solid maple with an oil finish. My son and his girlfriend were visiting for Thanksgiving and I showed them the table. My son thought it was great, but kept asking, "Aren't you going to varnish it?". I explained multiple times it has an oil finish, but I don't think he got that. Girlfriend merely glanced up from from her phone and went back to her phone. She's actually a very intelligent and nice person, but I think if it doesn't come from West Elm, she's not interested. This makes me wonder if she saw my table in a West Elm showroom with a $900 price tag, would she give it more than a glance?

    I can't really blame such young people for knowing nothing about quality furniture. For their entire lives, they have seen only mass-produced fixtures of particle board and contact paper with occasional, rubber wood furniture from Asia.

  4. #4
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    I think the demand is growing a little. (Some) People are getting tired of garbage and want something well built in their homes.

  5. #5
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    When I started my business I thought my customers would primarily be old-money, as mentioned above. I imagined talking with only execs with million-dollar custom homes. But I've been surprised. Most of my customers paying good money for custom pieces are the hard-working, down-to-earth, individuals, parents of small kids, working or having worked more "normal" jobs. My current main project is a $26,000 dining set for a single, older woman with a cookie-cutter home. She's waited 42 years for a corner nook and her kids found me online and encouraged her to contact me. Other customers are airport ground crew, pilots, professors, programmers, engineers, vets, color consultants, small business owners, etc.

    Just wanted to say this to point out that I make a living as a furniture designer and maker without having to tap into the ultra-rich crowd.
    Last edited by Jonathan Jung; 11-28-2023 at 4:45 PM.
    JonathanJungDesign.com

  6. #6
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    Empirically only, but i was under the impression most small shop makers were experiencing a bit of a renaissance the last decade or so. Just about anyone can run a decent ecommerce platform these days and market to a very large audience. I ran a side hustle out of my basement shops for many years that was a great addition to my day job income.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jonathan Jung View Post
    When I started my business I thought my customers would primarily be old-money, as mentioned above. I imagined talking only execs with million-dollar custom homes. But I've been surprised. Most of my customers paying good money for custom pieces are the hard-working, down-to-earth, individuals, parents of small kids, working or having worked more "normal" jobs. My current main project is a $26,000 dining set for a single, older woman with a cookie-cutter home. She's waited 42 years for a corner nook and her kids found me online and encouraged her to contact me. Other customers are airport ground crew, pilots, professors, programmers, engineers, vets, color consultants, small business owners, etc.

    Just wanted to say this to point out that I make a living as a furniture designer and maker without having to tap into the ultra-rich crowd.
    I'm glad to hear this. I mentioned in another post a while back a friend mine complained all the furniture she bought at the local "warehouse" just fell apart. I could see her paying someone like you to make some attractive and durable furniture.

  8. #8
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    I think it depends on your state or city you live in.
    In my area many many furniture stores sell a complete bedroom set for 600 or 700 dollars.
    I bet that price Is probably negotiable.
    So in my area the craftsman is gone.
    But the day of the artist craftsman is here.
    There's a difference.
    The artist craftsman competes with the internet woodworker. In a indirect strange way.
    Good Luck

  9. #9
    " It's the lack of customers willing to pay higher prices for hand made work as the middle class dwindles and getting older."

    Richard largely nailed it. Many of us making a living for decades making nice work in small shops were oblivious to the impending demographic wave that finally crashed over us right as the economy was collapsing from greed in 2008. A 1-2 punch that pushed many into early retirement or other work. And generational values have changed, such that affluent younger people don't often value "crafts" and wood in particular. The internet offered some a reprieve for a few years, and I'd confirm my experience selling high end (but under-priced) jewelry boxes on the web as similar to Jonathan's experience, where my customers were mostly small business owners, teachers--seldom people from the 1% or even the 5%. But Etsy has come to dominate the "hand-made" market, turning it into a race to the bottom. A few weeks ago they excitedly announced a new feature:Make an Offer is here! Collaborate directly with opted-in sellers across Etsy to find the perfect price for that special find you’ve been eyeing. And Google is now largely a payola scheme, with endless "sponsored" listings drowning out those without a hefty ad budget.

    The internet is dominated by "virality," turning marketing into a desperate quest for attention by any means possible (rock music, cleavage, absurd claims of uniqueness--even as most scour the web for work to copy).

    We live in a society that as a rule has little insight into quality--whether in furniture or human character. Maybe they blow their evaluative wad on beer....

  10. #10
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    Josko

    We're fortunate to live in an area of the country, that still values, and needs, individual craftsman. (Ikea and the big box stores can't sell furniture to install on ships and yachts.)
    I don't know that it's all "old money", as a lot of "new money" comes out of NY City every weekend. I think like others have pointed out, it's people that finally got to a point where they could afford to get what they wanted, and not compromise at an IKEA, Thomasville, or Ethan Allen, Gallery. I know many of those small craftsman, and believe me, all of them had had to take the ferry to Long Island and install high end kitchens and and baths to keep their business in Mass, RI, and CT, going, as well as fill Sea Vans full of materials, and tools, and spend 6 months in the V.I's. It's a hard way to make a living.
    Right now though, there is a lot of high quality furniture on these market. A lot! As the Baby Boomer generation has aged out, retired down south ,and ultimately passed away, there is no shortage of quality furniture on the market, which is driving the price down. I was in a Stickley Showroom last year and pointed out that the "new" Stickley pieces were selling for the same prices in many instances as "original" Stickley's could be bought used. Sometimes more. ( Not pieces that could be traced to Gustav, but,,,) I don't know what the demand for mission style furniture's? but it must still be there, as this place had a lot of people in the showroom.
    Everything goes in cycles. People will get tired of having the same dining room tables and kitchen cabinets as 10,000 other people, and then they look for someone to build them what they want.
    "The first thing you need to know, will likely be the last thing you learn." (Unknown)

  11. #11
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    Custom furniture is a tough market, because it is easy to transport and fits into most buildings. Cabinets are better, because they get built to fit and installed. The only person I know that is making a living building furniture is making large live edge slab stuff, corporate and residential. I don't know his financial situation.

  12. #12
    they old guy asked one known artsy craftsy furniture maker how he was doing and he said his wife has a good job.

    Calling live edge building furniture is like calling a DJ a musician.

  13. #13
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    Another point I'd like to add to my earlier post.
    Designing a piece that reflects the solo craftsman will almost always suffer from individualistic beauty.
    I believe craftsman and artist that worked in guilds did much better. The more the merrier its difficult because of personality.
    Even the best master designer's spend years to refine a piece. That's just the start.
    Many including me build of of these one of those.
    Too a non Woodworker it's about as exciting as leaves blowing in the wind.
    Good Luck

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Warren Lake View Post
    they old guy asked one known artsy craftsy furniture maker how he was doing and he said his wife has a good job.

    Calling live edge building furniture is like calling a DJ a musician.
    I admire Herbie Hancock. Hip hop in general is not a favorite.
    Best Regards, Maurice

  15. #15
    This thread has some interesting replies.

    I make my living (supporting my family) as a solo furniture maker / craftsman / woodworker doing exclusively custom designs and commissions. I do dabble in architectural millwork and smaller scale cabinetry if the job is custom and $$$ enough to make sense for me to do and comes across my plate. Things like custom doors, vanities, wine cellar builds, etc.

    Do i financially thrive continuously and roll around on piles of cash? No, I do not, but I have managed to build a solo custom woodworking "business" in a fairly rural/isolated area over the course of the last ~6 + years or so starting from not much and being very strategic and thrifty about equipment / business investments and taking on very little business debt. If I were less risk-averse and more aggressive in marketing / business then I could have done more quicker, but personal choice there.

    Not sure that I would call my work "artsy" but I am very intentional in everything I build and I like to think this comes out in the work in subtle ways. I do not follow or subscribe to design trends and work hard to find clients that value what I do and have built up as important in my business. I do not operate in a traditional "scalable" business model and prefer to remain solo for personal reasons and just deal with all the ups and downs that entails. There are days where I consider closing shop and working a "desk" job but not sure I could handle the transition at this point and really value self employment.

    There are plenty of us out there sprinkled around still doing custom work. Probably not as common as it used to be, but it's certainly still happening. I build for folks locally and have shipped furniture, etc across the country and even a few things internationally.

    www.stillwaterwoodworks.com shows some of my work.

    PS - Hopefully no one mistakenly takes away that Herbie Hancock is a hip hop artist.
    Last edited by Phillip Mitchell; 11-29-2023 at 4:17 PM.
    Still waters run deep.

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