When does a best-kept secret need to be a secret no more? When the revealing of it could make a vast difference in the lives of talented craftspeople. Those of us in the home furnishings industry have all heard the stories that play out in small towns around the country. And the Google search “american furniture industry decline” results in a host of dire listings that prove the manufacturers have had the secret to success wrenched from their hands.
Retooling America for Success
The headlines include “The Decline of an American Furniture Marker” (by way of The New Yorker), “Furniture industry at a critical turning point” (by way of Furniture Today), and “The Plight of American Manufacturing” (by way of The American Prospect).” These are not new mentions of the circumstances many of our country’s factory workers find themselves in, which means the call-to-action to help them is falling ever-more silent with each passing year.
Books have been written about furniture manufacturing executives determined to save hundreds of jobs in the industry, and it’s easy to admire someone whose convictions are so strong but it seems this admiration merely gets filed away in the backs of our minds, the fact that someone is fighting to save what was once a way of life and a proud sector of home furnishings but a passing awareness.
The cliché “out of sight, out of mind” is so apropos here; and this is why we chose to honor the men and women who make our furniture at the well-received debut of our Azure Collection in High Point last weekend. The sumptuous furniture that made our launch possible, which you see in the photos in this journal entry, is of the most outstanding handcrafted quality because it is made lovingly by highly skilled workers who have a passion for their craft.
Our Azure Collection: A Team Effort
We are also choosing to highlight them today because their stories need to be told so that they have the opportunity to thrive in the manner they deserve to flourish. We will be sharing details about the new collection and our exciting events at the Bienenstock Furniture Library in the coming weeks; today, we pay homage to the artisans who made both the furniture and the celebrations possible in the hopes that designers and architects who value Made in America quality will follow our lead and reward these craftspeople with commissions for furniture of the highest quality in the world today.
Bruce has spent many an hour in Dorsett Upholstery and Visionary Designs as he’s worked with the teams there to achieve the creations he envisions. I had the privilege of visiting the factories for the first time day before yesterday. Patricia Dorsett, whose husband Ronald Dorsett founded the business in 1978, took me on a tour of their small factory, and I was struck by the care with which each of the handful of workers there treated their tasks. In handful, I truly do mean five workers—each cutting or sewing upholstery fabrics, or affixing it to the furniture that trickles through their doorway.
Pat remembers times when they were quite busy, times when they had a number of designers who would not consider going anywhere else for their upholstery needs. “Each year more of them either retire or die,” she told me. “We’re down to so few of them we don’t know how much longer we will last.” It is this statement that awakened us at Bruce Andrews Design to the realization that we have an opportunity here to do something positive in the world and we are asking each of you who believe in exemplary design to join us.
Pat is a big fan of the other manufacturer who has the most impact on the quality of our products—Glenn Carroll of Visionary Designs. “It all starts with Glenn,” she told me as we watched Willie cutting beautiful upholstery fabric with a pair of shears. “The frames we receive from him are so well made that it makes our jobs—to produce furniture that stands out—so much easier.”
Glenn’s factory is a well-oiled machine that will likely be humming along for quite some time but the improvements he would like to make, namely machinery that is remarkably expensive, are put off year after year because the money just isn’t there. “If I could bring in the latest equipment, I believe I could entice younger workers, which would help revive the craft of woodworking here in North Carolina,” he said, noting they had recently attracted a younger worker—the only one in the mix that had not seen many years cutting, turning or sanding wood.
The fact that they have not been able to draw the younger generations to their businesses is a serious worry for both Pat and Ronald, and Glenn. This is one of the factors that make for difficult odds, as does the determination of the Asians to “dump” their furniture in the US—a term that denotes the illegal practice of selling exports to our country that are priced lower than the cost of their materials.
In Sight and On Our Minds
We see what we are doing as joining a number of other manufacturers who are bringing their convictions to bear on the situation in an effort to revive America’s once booming furniture manufacturing industry—Dessin Fournir in Kansas, Kneedler Fauchère and Rose Tarlow in California, Chaddock in North Carolina, Kindel Furniture in Michigan, and Edward Ferrell + Lewis Mittman among them.
The gems we have left in the US, including Dorsett Upholstery and Visionary Designs in North Carolina, are worth saving and helping to thrive. They are so much more than statistics presented in news headlines to us. They are of our tribe, meaning they believe that a piece of furniture nurtured into being by the creative force we’ve been given is nothing less than a work of art. They are also beautiful human beings. We love seeing Pat Dorsett smiling from the Bentley in our featured image, and her and Glenn posing on our Highland Chair during our High Point event because we’ve come to know them so well over the past several months and we see their strong spirit shining through.
Here’s the thing: if even half of America’s designers and architects who are sourcing offshore would make a commitment to buying exceptional goods manufactured here at home, what a difference could be made for such talented craftspeople! If you are in favor of the tack we are taking, we would love it if you would let us know. We’re out to change the way things are done, one extraordinary piece of furniture at a time.
This post, The Secret of Success, © Bruce Andrews Design, all rights reserved. Our furniture is now available through Nandina Home in Aiken, SC; Jalan Jalan in Miami, FL; Travis & Company in ADAC in Atlanta; and the Ellouise Abbott showroom in Dallas, TX. We will soon be showing in the Ellouise Abbott showroom in Houston and in the Michael-Cleary showroom in Chicago, IL.