They're carrying on the American tradition of substainably-sourced and locally-made sofas, bed frames, and more.
Photography: Vaughan-Bassett1 of 12
Despite a wave of outsourcing over the past two decades, America’s furniture manufacturing industry is well and alive. While some design companies chose to pack up and head overseas to cut costs, a handful of American furniture makers have chosen to stay and weather the expense storm.
As Peggy Farabaugh -- founder at Vermont Wood Studios -- told us, artisans like herself are finally reaping the rewards for choosing for making ethically-sourced and designed American furniture. “I think people are weary of poor quality and worried about the unknown origins of imported furniture,” Farabaugh explained. “What kind of wood is it made of? Where is that wood from and is it harvested legally? Who makes the furniture and under what kind of working conditions?” Consumers also want to know what toxic chemicals may be used during the manufacturing process and the exposure their children will have to them.
Farabaugh also points out that, because this trend is in line with the current craft and organic movement, the new generation is advocating for it. “Decades ago people became concerned about where their food comes from and they starting buying organic,” she said. “Now, people, especially millennials, are looking into the origin of other things they acquire. That's fueling the American made movement.”
Jerry Cunningham, owner of The Woodland Mills, has had a similar experience. “Over the past 15 years or so, I have witnessed a lot of changes in the furniture industry specifically, and American manufacturing as a whole,” he told Martha Stewart Living. "In the early 2000s, every few days I would learn of another major furniture maker who was either shuttering their plants completely, or turning them into a distribution center after selling off the equipment and outsourcing production.”
Cunningham noted that in those days, the plants weren't being shut down because it was economically necessary. “A lot of the plants were profitable, but management felt they could gain a few more margin points by importing furniture,” he said. “The publicly traded companies were more interested in serving their shareholders interests rather than their employees and customers."
Of course, choosing to run a domestic operation comes with its own set of challenges, Farabaugh confirmed -- namely, it's tough to compete with the prices of imported furniture. “When you think about the compensation American craftspeople need versus what workers in Vietnam or China are paid, there is no comparison,” she said. “Add in the cost of adherence to American environmental, health and safety standards and the price differential gets worse.”
And given that artisanal furniture-making requires all wood to be sourced legally and sustainably, local manufacturers like Vermont Woods Studios has to work hard, not only in building a high-quality product, but also in reflecting its environmental mission and commitment to Vermont's great craftspeople, the founder told us. “Despite the higher price, customers purchase furniture from us because they know that in the long run, our furniture delivers a better return on their investment than imported furniture.”
In this installment of How to Buy American, we’re taking a look at how the once-diminishing domestic furniture industry is flourishing thanks to these manufacturers.
Photography: Vermont Woods Studios2 of 12
Location: Vernon, VT
This small company creating eco-friendly Vermont-made furniture is all about sustainability. True to its grassroots values, Vermont Woods Studios, based in Stonehurst, VT, wants their customers to know where their home furnishings come from. This is why all the pieces are carefully crafted by local woodworkers and shipped directly from their workshops to customers.
Farabaugh, founder of Vermont Wood Studios, told Martha Stewart Living that, as the small company, there are benefits to manufacturing domestically. “The most important pro is that you can be proud of what you're doing and the community you're supporting,” she explained. “Vermont has a 250-year-old tradition of quality, fine furniture-making and we want to help keep that alive.”
Farabaugh also noted that unlike the furniture giants in North Carolina, Massachusetts and the Midwest, most Vermont companies chose not to relocate overseas during the 20th century. The Green Mountain State's flagship furniture makers (Lyndon Furniture, Copeland Furniture, Maple Corner Woodworks and Vermont Furniture Designs) all stayed in Vermont, thus “remaining true to their employees, communities and the quality of their work.”
“We're proud to be an integral part of their teams as a retail partner that delivers furniture in all 50 states,” Farabaugh explained. “We get synergy and cost-effectiveness by specializing in products made right here in Vermont.”
And by keeping their supply chain local, Vermont Woods Studios has gained efficiencies in communication, travel, customization, shipping and logistics. “Our customers' commitment to sustainability and provenance has enabled us to plant 50,000 trees in vulnerable forests where our competitors still harvest wood illegally,” noted Farabaugh.
Photography: Vaughan-Bassett3 of 12
Location: Elkin, NC
If the name sounds familiar, it's because Vaughan-Bassett is the largest manufacturer of wooden bedroom sets in America.
With help from about 700 employees in factories based in Galax, Virginia, and Elkin, North Carolina, the company’s proud that “100 percent of our furniture is crafted here in the United States by American employees.”
Most of the furniture that Vaughan-Bassett manufacturer uses wood solids and wood veneers grown and harvested near plants in the southeast United States. This includes high-quality varieties like pine, oak, maple, cherry, ash, poplar, birch and beech.
The company has stated that their “number-one priority is providing our customers with unmatched service, quality and value. In short, nothing makes us happier than to make it easy for our customers to feel at home.” And for its part, Vaughan-Bassett is making sure to sustain all the harvested woods it uses in its products.
“Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Company is committed to manufacturing its furniture in a responsible and environmentally friendly manner,” the company stated. “Through its ‘One for One’ program, Vaughan-Bassett has contributed 150,000 tree seedlings in 2007 to the Virginia Department of Forestry.”
The program was implemented in the planting of 150,000 maple, oak, ash, pine, poplar and applewood trees to allow “the replacement of every tree used in the production of the company's bedroom suites.”
Photography: Simplicity Sofas4 of 12
Location: High Point, NC
A fairly new entrant to the North Carolina furniture scene, Simplicity Sofas was established in 2007 and specializes in creating ready-to-assemble sofas and sectionals for small spaces that are perfect for the modern home.
This practical e-commerce and direct-to-consumer business model has earned the company accolades from within the industry.
According to the company: “Customer service and word-of-mouth referrals have been Simplicity Sofas' primary marketing tool since the company was founded in 2007. This is extremely rare for e-commerce companies and unheard of in the furniture industry.”
Most importantly, Simplicity Sofas’ dedication to manufacturing sofas a few miles from its North Carolina office and showroom has been vital to its brand. By giving customers the flexibility and freedom to form sectionals to their liking, Simplicity Sofas is elevating domestic manufacturing to a new heights when it comes to innovation, design, and affordability.
Photography: Courtesy of Crate&Barrel5 of 12
Location: Northbrook, IL.
Just when you thought American-made furniture were obsolete at popular chain stores, Crate & Barrel -- known as a wedding registry destination for couples everywhere -- has decided to get in on the domestically-manufactured game.
The company’s American-made products include many sofas, beds and ottomans, among other accessories for the home at affordable price points. They even make it a point to list where every piece has been made under the product’s listing on their website.
Crate & Barrel has stated that: “The majority of our upholstered frames are benchmade in the United States at family-owned workshops we’ve had relationships with for more than 30 years. All of our upholstered certified sustainable hardwood frames are guaranteed for life… and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Their American-made pieces can be found at Crate & Barrel stores everywhere.
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Photography: Marc Taggart & Co.6 of 12
Location: Cody, WY
Price: Custom Quote
Marc Taggart has got you covered for all your Americana furniture needs.
The small company is all about Western-style designs for vintage lovers. Made right at Taggart’s hometown of Cody, Wyoming, the custom woodworked pieces include authentic made-to-order “Remembering the Alamo Hutches.”
As for the manufacturing itself, Taggart takes pride in the “very cool and whimsical Molesworth furniture we restore and build,” he told us. Molesworth style furniture includes hallmarks such as “natural materials, grand stature, and the clever juxtapositioning of traditional woodworking craftsmanship with romantic thematic elements.”
With the high-quality all-American tools and skills Marc Taggart and Company provide, fans of this style can get their hands on Molesworth pieces designed and made from ethically-sourced material right in the American heartland.
Photography: Wüd Furniture Design7 of 12
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Even avant-garde furniture makers are priding themselves on a made-in-America mission.
Wüd Furniture Design makes modern high-end furnishings designed and custom-crafted in Brooklyn, New York. The company’s CEO Corey Springer told us of both the benefits and challenges that come with running a furniture company out of New York City.
Springer explained that despite frequently-changing technology and trends, “There seems to be a nostalgia for the past. Our clients are looking for hand-made, quality, heirloom pieces for their homes,” he said. “They appreciate that each piece is built by a select group of skilled artisans that take immense pride in their craft.”
He explained that this current moment is also an opportunity for creative expression. “Our clients' spaces reflect their aesthetic and lifestyles, and owning furniture that mirrors that comes at a premium.” As an American artist and businessman, Springer said he believes strongly in building a domestic company. “Wüd provides full-time employment for American-based artisans and our product is all sourced within the United States, and manufactured completely in Brooklyn.”
The company also prides itself on building high-end furniture that is both artistic and functional, and that comes with a great responsibility. “From testing prototypes to pushing boundaries with materials, my team works together to exceed expectations and I believe that, to do that successfully, everything has to be produced and managed under one roof.”
And the most obvious con to owning a domestic operation Springer said, is of course “the expense of running a large shop and showroom out of Brooklyn. However, I believe that our location attracts quality craftsmen.”
Photography: Cliff Young8 of 12
Location: New York, NY
This high-end modern furniture maker based in the heart of New York City has been on the forefront of domestic furniture-making for almost half a century.
“For over 48 years, Cliff Young Ltd. has brought to life an extraordinary modern furniture collection that tastefully combines modern day sophistication with the warm, inviting feel of old world craftsmanship,” the company stated.
From creating “award-winning furniture designs, custom pieces and built-ins, as well as complete interior design solutions over the years,” the Cliff Young team has helped foster designer talent while giving American homeowners perfect interiors.
With the help of innovative tools like 3-D renderings, sketches, and full working drawings, Cliff Young has managed to run an all-American operation that helps furniture clients purchase and enjoy domestically-designed and manufactured furniture from start to finish.
Photography: The Woodland Mills9 of 12
Location: Glenville, PA
The Pennsylvania-based maker specializes in solid woon pine bookcases and wine racks, and owner Cunningham knows exactly what consumers are into these days.
“Thanks in part to the internet, the consumer nowadays is very well-researched, educated and informed about the products they buy,” he told us. “Price will always be a major consideration for most consumers, but it's no longer the most important factor.”
Cunningham went on to note that in his experience, many customers are willing to spend a few extra dollars for a domestically-made product, as opposed to a mass-manufactured import. “If you look at it from a larger perspective, any sort of craft-made product is highly desirable now,” he pointed out. “Anything from craft beers, wines and spirits, to pickles, soaps, jewelry, and of course, bookcases and wine racks. I am starting to see a cultural shift from a quantity mindset to a quality mindset.”
Besides the more major obvious costs -- such as finding talented labor and workers and healthcare costs -- another concern for small manufacturers such as Cunningham is the cost of distribution,. “Shipping costs go up every year without fail. There has been massive consolidation in the transportation industry where many smaller carriers have either gone out of business, or have been bought out by larger competitors.” So while traditional brick-and-mortar retailers worry about rising rents and less foot traffic in their stores, online retailers fear shipping costs will get out of hand.
However, the benefit of running your firm with domestic production is that you are much more able to respond to customer's demands. “That's hard to do if you have to wait 30 to 60 days for the next sea container ship to come in from overseas,” Cunningham noted. “Also trends and fads are changing faster now than they ever have. I’d have never dreamed five years ago that people would spend good money for products made from old pallets.”
On top of it all, many companies learned the hard way that what they saved in payroll, and they now had invested in inventory and logistics management. “We’ve never considered outsourcing production,” he said. “To me, it just doesn't seem morally right to intentionally cause economic harm to our local economy to try to make a quick buck.”
More so than ever, consumers are interested in the story behind the products they choose to buy, Cunningham assured us. “Whether it's knowing that the materials their product is made from are sustainable and ethically-sourced, environmentally-friendly and free from toxins chemicals, or that the craftsmen and women that crafted their product are doing something they love and can make a good living doing it.”
Photography: West Elm10 of 12
The mid-range home decor retailer has an entire “Made in America” collections for customers looking for domestically manufactured home products.
Last year, West Elm launched the Local Showcase initiative so domestic makers can contribute ideas and products for the chain retailer to sell in its locations across the country. The nine categories the company is seeking to beef up in its locally-made initiative are: Giftables, home textiles, kitchen goods, garden, personal care, personal items, furniture, décor, and food.
“Local Showcase is in concert with the Local initiative at large,” director Mo Mullen said during the launch. “We ran a small business grant competition in 2014 as part of that process. We had makers and designers come to stores. We had such an incredible response, and it was a great way for our stores to dig deeper and get to know our community more.”
In developing Local Showcase, West Elm was determined to expand its outreach to what has emerged as an important resource. “We want to make sure that we’re able to give our stores the opportunity to connect with as many local designers and makers as possible,” Mullen said. “We want to double our base of local designers and makers.”
You can get a taste of the Local Showcase’s results with West Elm’s growing Made-in-USA sofa collection, sold in its American stores.
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Photography: Vintage Mill Werks11 of 12
Location: Nashville, TN
Vintage Mill Werks is a California company that’s been making solid-wood furniture from Pacific Northwest reclaimed wood for generations.
Todd Block, president at Vintage Mill Werks, told us that despite the wave of American-made furniture being wiped out in the in the early 2000s, he and his team never wanted to join the overseas crowds. “As a third-generation furniture manufacturer, shutting our doors was not an option,” he said. “We adapted to the environment, changed our style of manufacturing from large production runs to bench made one-off production.”
They also chose to create niche products that has served the company well, Block said. “We allowed our customers an abundance of options in the order process, including 20-plus finish options, sizing and configuration,” he noted. “We basically give our customers the power to design and create their own piece of furniture.”
On the production side, Vintage Mill Werks keeps the customization options limited to their base designs, which allows the design team to use the same basic components, tooling, detailing, etc., in order to produce the concept while allowing the manufacturing process to move along at a productive rate, Block said.
“'Made in the USA' has always been our mission, and as my boys come up in the industry, I believe the future for made in America is quite bright.”
Photography: Wood and Pipe12 of 12
Location: New England
This New England-based and family-owned industrial studio specializes in making consoles, shelves and racks. While their offerings may be seen as limited, this niche product range has allowed Wood And Pipe Furniture to flourish while selling made-to-order furniture on their Etsy shop.
“We are a small family-run workshop,” the description on their site explains. “Our inspiration comes from America's industrial past, our joy comes from working together.”
The husband and wife team has spent their “lives together restoring, creating and building home spaces, work spaces and retail spaces.” And if you’re looking to furnish your home with trendy-yet-durable pieces made from recyclable wood made out of a Litchfield Hills, CT workshop Wood And Pipe is the Etsy shop for you.
“With our years of salvaging reclaimed materials, we began to build industrial inspired pieces of furniture,” media consoles, clothes racks, shelves, tables and much, much more.