John Strauss Furniture Design, Ltd.
Tell us about your business.I studied art at an Ivy League college, was trained as a sculptor, earned an MFA after moving to NYC and ended up in the Brooklyn atelier of French Master Furniture Maker Gabriel Giuntini. After being trained for over 5 years, I felt that I had been entrusted with a sacred set of knowledge and skills. I could not immediately go back to art. I was the last assistant to work with Giuntini before he passed. When I moved to Ohio 20 years ago, I started a custom furniture business based on what I had done in NYC. After designing a collection, I made an adjustment to the business realizing that to be successful, I needed to outsource my production to others who have the capability to be economical, productive and allow for growth. I now focus on design, sales and new product development in my studio. Art has come back to me. I produce furniture for stores and designers across the country. I recently developed a lighting and accessory branch with my design partner as well. Inspired!
Tell us about your workspace, shop, or studio.I have my own shop that is fully equipped to do most solid and veneer work. In my shop I am able to develop prototypes, do special projects, custom finish and make all of the sculptural accessories of CMJSCreativ as well as assemble the lighting that CMJSCreativ does. But in addition, I have access to about 400 Amish shops within an hour's radius of my shop/office. There are specialty shops that do one thing very well such as production turning, steam bending or panel glue ups. I work closely with several of these factories and have gotten to know many in the Amish Community. I have one main factory that does most of my collections and all of my custom work. The owner, Ernie Hershberger is one of the smartest guys you will ever meet with a 8th grade education. The factory has recently expanded and like most Amish factories, makes its own electricity. The floor is heated in the Winter by recaptured heat from the electric generator. Air is fresh in the finish room with a dedicated unit.
What inspires you?I am inspired by play, by history, by knowledge, by my design partner's ideas, by trying to make my visions a reality. I don't like to reinterpret others' designs but dream about new ideas after looking at history, at the Masters of Mid-Century Modern and Art Deco. I love to see the original pieces in museums and galleries and I love to see my work in beautiful homes. I am a sculptor at heart so I work best in the studio at play. I work from ideas that pop into my head and then get onto paper and from there often built as a model. I bounce ideas off my partner in CMJSCreativ, Carisa Marie and value her input as someone from a different geographic and age place.
What makes your business stand out?The things that make my furniture stand out against the crowd are design originality, craftmanship integrity and custom flexibility. The added bonus is US made and sustainable. When clients are shopping around, they are often drawn to the furniture because of the design and then they learn about the US made part later. We are a small business with a large capability because of the Amish resources I utilize. We can do one custom unique piece or a 200 room hotel job.
What advice would you give an aspiring creative entrepreneur?I would caution any aspiring entrepreneur in the furniture trade to carefully evaluate the time and expense necessary to be in this business, as this is a very difficult way to make a living. I would have them focus on what do they bring to the field that is theirs, that is unique. I would ask them to evaluate what their ideal market is and then plan a way to reach that market. This is not always the obvious answer that they think it is. I would ask them to put aside for a moment their passion for making things and see if they also are ready to look at the business as a business. You can always make things as a hobby. A business might require you to do other things than plane and rout wood. I would suggest they find a good accountant! I could go on....
What does American Made mean to you?American Made means integrity of craftmanship, locally sourced materials that are sustainable because they have a low carbon footprint, and it means connecting with clients that value these points as well. It means creating a home with objects that have soul and meaning. It means having pieces that will last more than a lifetime. It means encouraging others in the community to do well and work hard. It means validating the choice I have made to make things here in the US and not source the cheapest route.
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