I’ve been asking myself, why do people like industrial furniture for their homes and businesses? My first memory of buying this type of furniture was at Costco, I bought a chromed shelf made of welded wire on casters. Some people call them metro shelves. It was rated to something crazy like 500 lbs per shelf or a ton total. I loved how this piece looked, and it was built to last a long time under high use.
In college, I bought stuff at Target that fell apart after a year or two of light use. It was made of particle board, veneers, went together with an allen wrench, and it was cheap. The wood ended up bowing over time, and if you got it wet, the particle board would bubble. I had some Ethan Allen furniture ever since I was a baby. That lasted until I was in my 30s until I sold it for a good price.
I guess what many people don’t understand, if you pay more at the beginning for something that is quality, it ends up costing less in the long run because it will last, maybe outlive you. And if it has classic lines and is not trendy, it can stay in style for a long long time. A fan of mine, Naomi Siegler wrote me recently about this:
“I can easily see your pieces used in “hospitality” for “accent” pieces or “focal point” pieces. I can see it for restaurant or cafe too, because, it will be so enduring and strong and commercial use gets so much abuse.
Many people don’t realize it but, “hospitality” and “restaurant” furniture may often look residential but, has hidden reinforcement and strength. I think sometimes small businesses or new businesses make the mistake of not having an “experienced designer” specify for them. I will visit an establishment and a year or two later see that they are on their second round of furniture! Architects don’t support too, much in referring or advocating our expertise but, reps. and specialty fabricators like you see we can make a difference.
Did you know the famous metal chair …the “navy” chair by Emeco was originally designed more than 75 years ago for US Navy destroyers? Now it is all the rage and the authenic ones are still being made and sold and are kind of expensive compared to junk but, cheap if you look for chairs that will last more than a lifetime! You follow in a powerful tradition of metal furniture making that’s for sure.”
When I build something for a commercial application, it’s usually identical to the residential version. That’s because I way overbuild all of my designs. None of my designs can be disassembled, except for the 308 shelf. They are permanently welded and/or riveted together. I typically use structural steel like angle iron. I only use solid wood, no veneers. And one of my favorite parts, the casters, make it easy to move things around in your home for parties, cleaning, and rearranging.
So why are people drawn to vintage industrial furniture? It’s meant for heavy use and is well made and thought out. It’s a strong reminder of the past when people cared more about what they were making than the money they were putting in their pocket. While I do care about making money, I won’t build anything that I don’t like or that is or looks cheap. If I’m not proud of what I am doing, then I won’t do it, which is one of the perks of being self-employed. I love my job, even though it’s quite physically demanding work with a bit of danger mixed in.
An even rarer style is American made Vintage Industrial. Restoration Hardware used to make some stuff here, but has since moved just about everything to China. While I like their designs, I am trying really hard to support America by buying from here. And most of the industrial shops I visit (in person and on the web) are selling either true vintage pieces from Europe or new stuff from India. India is a HUGE maker of the vintage industrial style. And if you touch the pieces, the steel, although fairly strong, is about half or less the thickness of what I use. I get emails from Indian companies all the time and their prices are crazy. $17 for a metal stool, $50 for a coffee table, $150 for a huge dresser. This is about 10% of what I would charge. And they claim to use reclaimed wood. I’ve been told that they lie about this sometimes. How do you check? And where are they getting this wood? Maybe it was somebody’s beloved home or it’s a lie or who knows what. Reclaimed seems to be all the rage right now, but that doesn’t mean much to me unless I know where it came from. I recently bought a lot of reclaimed mahogany that was originally installed as bleacher seats back in a 1912 New Mexico schoolhouse. How do I know this is true? Well it looked to be reclaimed, had the proper screw and worm holes from age, and one piece had an old sticker that looked about right. So it’s probably true.
This Brooklyn coffee weighs around 100 lbs and would probably support 2000 lbs. While it will probably never be subjected to that much weight, it’s always nice to know just incase 10 people decide to dance on top of it.
Anyways, I’ve got to get back to work on this restaurant project. Thank for listening to my rant and please feel free to comment below!
Join the discussion 4 Comments
to answer your query greg, i believe it’s nostalgia.
we are children of the industrial age, grandchildren even
we now live in a post industrial realm, formless, virtual
but it is in the landscape of our memories where we long to be
it is there we see old bridges, remnants of grampa’s shop
it is where we see machines and factories and steel structures
where things are safe, secure, well designed and true to form
we want these items in our homes, offices and restaurants
because these are the things we have built for ourselves
industrial furniture is our connection to those who came before
giving us a sense of ancestry and continuity, and thus, meaning
your work is beautiful greg, your work is important
form follows function and is determined by design
this is the artist’s credo
Thank you Daniel. You’ve given me a lot to think about. Your writing is quite inspiring. I can’t remember when I’ve been so moved via the virtual world.
I do love sturdy old steel structures. Never knew why, never really asked why. I guess they do make me feel secure and connected to the past. Built to support human lives. And hopefully my work will live on past my expiration date and make others feel the way I do.
I understands the concern2nowI am very o glad to hear that you got your Supra fixed. I remember reading about some of your doubts3cx2 !.
I read your words and I totally agree with you. I’m not American, I’m Italian. I’m in furniture business too. I work in Asia, (Vietnam and China) where we make furniture for PB. We do all the nice products with distressing they have. It’s our design. We’ve moved here 4 years ago since in Italy running the business was almost impossible with high tax pressure and cost of labor.. We had to move to survive. Of course I’m not happy. I’d like to keep running the business in Italy and keep the high skills of our master crafts. I learnt all there and I’m trying day after day to share my knowledges with my new Asian collegues. It’s not always easy job for different mentality and background but I’m happy to teach and they learn fast. I like your job. This is still art not a simple furniture making business. I also find some inspirations from your design. Thank you again.