Charleston Forge has a long history of hand-building, beautiful, high quality, steel, wood, and leather furniture. We have an extensive catalog of products and do a large amount of custom work and have built product for retailers such as Room & Board, Restoration Hardware, Crate & Barrel and Bloomingdales, just to name a few.
While I know there are plenty of blogs out there that share their experience with the High Point Furniture Market, veterans or fashion experts are usually the authors. Name brand companies have teams whose sole goal is to paint their company in the light of success based on another "in house" team’s market research. People who follow the trends and know the furniture industry inside and out, knowing just what to say in order to trigger a sale or interest.
I am not one of those people. I am new to the furniture industry and I tend to tell it how it is because I believe people want the truth… want to see a company as a person, not as a big corporation with CEO’s that could care less about their employees. I graduated from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC with a photography degree in December of 2011. I’d never been to market, in fact, I hardly knew what it was. I had four months to learn everything about the company; who they are, what they stand for, what the mission is and how they have changed since the furniture industry went over seas; all of that goes in to communicating who they are photographically. Four months to develop and perfect my eye and lighting and editing when shooting furniture (my graduating portfolio revolved around portraiture - and the two are hardly related.) Four months to grasp the vast meaning of the High Point Furniture Market – the biggest furniture market in the world.
In all honesty, the marketing team here (which really consists of a marketing director… and me, a photographer, retoucher and social media fan) really began preparation for this years April market five weeks prior to its opening. We sat down, looked at a calendar and began talking about what needed to be accomplished between then and April 21st. My head began spinning; furniture wasn’t built (the order hadn’t even been finalized,) the new catalog hadn’t been in process for long, take-aways had to be thought about, press packets hadn’t been discussed, ideas for design and color schemes for the showroom hadn’t been approached, and every part of this process had to be photographed, designed or edited in one way or another. Five weeks. Five.
The idea for our newly improved image was upscale, geared towards women. Clean. We’d been headed that direction for a long time, but were having a hard time communicating it. Our look had to match that this time around, communicate that. It’s who we are now, yet all people seemed to think of us for was our Bakers Racks... the foundation to the Charleston Forge expansion all those years ago.
I was continually told that market was glamorous, busy, buzzy and nothing less than exciting. Five weeks and I was having a hard time seeing it. I am surrounded by a factory; men covered in metal dust, loud noises and flying sparks, and a vast space that could serve as a horror film backdrop at night - jagged metal, sparsely lit. The only clean white space is my studio here at the factory, and even that is in need of new paint after the frenzy that is market prep. At that point, I could only guess where we were truly headed, and all I had to work with was lighting. The head spinning continued as I frantically photographed and edited and designed and edited… and edited.
Then the CEO, Art Barber, and I went to High Point, to the Charleston Forge Showroom. I fell in love with the Market Square building. The old brick, the large windows streaming light in, the open spaces… and while no one had even begun to set up for the upcoming Market, there were plenty of showrooms still set up from the October 2011 Market. I felt that I was back in New York City, visiting Martha Stewarts studios. I suddenly saw the vision of what had been discussed back at our factory. I saw our product beautifully lit against an upscale backdrop and on the level of New York. Instead of old school bakers racks, I saw beautiful clean finishes and accent pieces paired with amazingly designed beds and consoles. I came back to Boone with a much clearer and cleaner vision of our goal for this years Market.
We got it done. With only a few weeks left, and with a very limited staff, we finished everything we’d set out to do to portray Charleston Forge in the light that it deservs.
While I did not get to see market in full swing, the Thursday before market opened was enlightening. The showroom was fully set up, the press packets were delivered and our reps were set to meet with us. I was impressed with what our team had accomplished in such a short period of time, especially when the showrooms of names much bigger and well staffed than ours were still full of boxes that had only earlier that day been delivered… and there wasn’t a person in sight unpacking or directing the flow of what needed to happen in order to be fully prepared for market to open.
We accomplished our goals, and the success of the April High Point Market, and the reaction of visitors to our showroom, reflected all of the hard work and dedication we put in to it.
At Charleston Forge, we are best known for our furniture. Our bakers racks, our dining tables, our drink tables, our swivel counter stools and chairs... even our beds which have had the pleasure of gracing the bedrooms of some of the top celebrities. However, what many don't realize is that we cater to a whole range of needs.
The Town of Boone, NC commissioned us a few years back to create street signs that looked classic, and remained sturdy (hey, it's what we're known for,) but also fit the small town feel of this quaint little place that has made it to so many "Best of..." lists (most recently being listed as number 4 on Forbes list of Fastest-Growing Small Towns.) We were more than happy to be a part of this project for this town were we live, work and play. Since that time, we have created signs for other main street areas in other states.
In addition, we have recently been a part of furnishing brand new upscale hotels, building lighting systems and a huge wine rack (which covers an entire wall) in a soon to open restaurant in Uptown Charlotte. We are in the process of creating table bases for a major golf course here in the south (stay tuned for that story within the next few weeks,) and although it's not something we do on a daily basis, we did design and create some beautiful banisters for an outdoor stone patio and entertainment area at a clients home. They could have gone with someone else, but they wanted our quality and our style along with our craftsmanship . We are so much more than furniture (although it is something we're great at.)
Downtown Boone, NC
Reports are consistently saying that the quality and value of American made goods is on the increase, however, employment within these industries (ours included) is, as it has been in recent years, decreasing. The average number of manufacturing jobs, according to and article from NPR titled “The Past and Future of American Manufacturing,” has dropped from around 18 million to approximately 12 million in the last decade. While we have not been strangers to having to make the difficult choice of cutting our employee base due to economic downturns, we still believe in the decision making power of the worker.
There is nothing like coming in to the factory on a snowy morning here in the mountains, putting on my protective eyewear, grabbing my camera and heading out to the shop to see what’s in the works. There is a normal loop I take, first visiting the men working the hot, reddish orange forge, flames licking at the metal, softening it to a point where one can take a hammer to it to give it a texture unlike any other. I then wander around to where they weld the pieces together, men in their green aprons, covered in metal dust, large protective masks covering their faces while blue and orange sparks fly in every direction, lighting up the red plastic separators between each station. Being trained as a photographer and fascinated with light as I am, I must remind myself not to stare directly at the center blue flame where the sparks originate. That light will burn the eye, even from far away. I then head on over to where we have a few detail-oriented ladies who grind down any metal burrs or weld melts to create a smooth and beautiful look to our metal, again, sparks flying.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we turn on these massive machines and you see chairs, tables, bakers racks, mirror frames, and sometimes bed frames (along with any other item we have been commissioned to create) on a slow march, through a 5-stage washer, a dry off oven, a paint booth and finally a cure oven, preparing each to be delivered to a designer, a home or a store. I can’t exactly tell you how, but this process always reminds me of the animated movie “Alice in Wonderland.”
Sometimes, we have custom paint jobs, a bright teal, or an orange for a flash sale event. These items head over to Dana, who, like any artist has her area of paint samples and brushes, an area where all of the colors she uses are blotted on a canvas so that she can take stock of its quality. She then hand paints each item, giving it a texture and sheen that you just can’t get from a paint booth or an airbrush.
During this process, there’s metal dust everywhere, there is texture and sound, metal clanging against metal. There are people, very talented at their jobs, working and smiling because they love what they do, creating something useful and meaningful with their hands. During lunch breaks, there are men and women joking and laughing over their brought-from-home lunches, strengthening friendships with the close-knit community of co-workers that they have created over the years.
I couldn’t imagine this process being nearly as intriguing if it were done by robotic arms, controlled by someone staring at a screen, pushing a button every half hour (which some reports are now stating that’s where the manufacturing world is headed…how factories have slowly replaced workers with machines in order to be able to compete with the Asian market.) While the furniture always leaves our warehouse clean and metal dust free, the process it takes to get to the beautiful sturdy piece that ends up in a customer’s living room would not be the same were it done in a shiny clean factory. It would not have the history and the energy that it does going through the process that it currently does here at Charleston Forge.
While I can’t foresee the future of where the employee scarce factory will take our world, I have to say that there is something about the process, and the people that makes our furniture something to LOVE that will last for years and years…. and years.
Handmade. We tell our customer and our partners that we are “Handmade… American Made.” It’s our motto, it’s on our business cards, it’s on our website and we constantly refer to it through facebook and our blog. We use the terms as if they mean something, as if they were important…. an ideal to live by. But in a world full of “Made in China,” “send the work over seas so we can make more money here at home” and cookie cutter repeats, we wonder if our consumers truly understand what we mean.
Back in October, our CEO shared a story that he received in an email with a photo of a ship containing 15,000 tractor-trailer loads of product from Asia. The Journey took just 4 days and the ship was emptied so that the product could be sent straight to companies who get their product quickly and cheaply, just to increase the price for something that you will walk in to your neighbor's house next week finding the exact same item. And while this seems to be the norm, the fact is that the cost to produce and ship product from China is on the rise, while much of the quality remains the same.
And for a dose of happy news, published in an article by Florida Today (www.Floridatoday.com), 2012 is a year where more people are looking for furniture specifically with the label “Made in the USA.” According to the article, “The demand for American-made products has created record prices for American antiques at auction houses.” And apparently, this trend is expected to influence many of the furniture manufacturers and all of the industry in one way or another (which is great to hear after so many companies followed the trend after 9/11 of sending much of their furniture manufacturing over seas. And all this during a time when total patriotism was shouted from the rooftops.)
So to us, “Handmade… American Made” is a phrase we couldn’t be more proud to use or to live by. Our people put their hearts into their work, from concept and design, to spending time by the hot forge twisting a chair leg into a glorious swirl, to meticulously painting a side table in a bright peacock teal as per a custom request. When it’s custom made, you can bet your neighbors won’t have the same barstools to entertain by. Your boss won’t have the same bench in his office that your kids sit on to tie their shoes in the morning. And your four-poster specially designed bed for your newly remodeled master suite will be special to you, and you alone.
And not only will it be unique, but it will also last for years and years. It won’t be put together with brittle plastic clips that refuse to hold the weight of your favorite book collection, nor will your favorite bar stool shatter into pieces when an excited brother-in-law knocks it over while tripping over his feet trying to get to your home made dessert (which he swears is better than any “from the box” mix you can buy.)
Handmade still means something. American made still means something. Quality.
- October 2012 Furniture Market — High Point, NC
- The Monarch Bench
- Solid Steel and Solid Wood Tops. Beautiful.
- Introducing our New Collections
- Solid Steel: Pure & Simple
- The Charleston Forge Oxford Bed in House Beautiful Magazine
- A Rare Red Maple Tree Stump Table Base :: Exclusively from Charleston Forge
- Leonardo da Vinci had it right :: Charleston Forge :: Furniture made in NC
- A Cocktail Table Prototype :: Charleston Forge :: Quality Furniture Made in America
- Pure and Simple :: A Charleston Forge Custom Table