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.
Want one? Want the whole collection? Be sure to contact your interior designer and ask for Charleston Forge specifically, or head on over to our "where to buy" page and find a local Charleston Forge Dealer. If they dont have one of these beauties in stock yet, be sure to ask for it!
1) Did you always want to be a designer?
No, I wanted to be a professional horsewoman but lacked the talent (even though I still have the desire.) Design runs deep in my genes. My family on both sides is filled with artists, inventors, engineers, and the like. My parents, as a hobby (that was really an obsession,) bought and restored old stone farmhouses in historic Bucks County, Pa. The very essence of architectural integrity was a daily experience as they did project after project bringing these magnificent homes back to their original splendor. They would then go to antique auctions in the surrounding areas and furnish these houses.
I can remember my mother on her hands and knees using Johnsons Paste Wax to polish the old pegged floors. When she was done, she would always ask me to hop on her electric buffer and get a “ride” while she buffed the floors up to a shiny patina. She said she needed the extra weight for a good shine.
2) What’s your design philosophy?
As a tag line: Creating environments that nurture the soul! My Design philosophy is really simple; there is nothing new under the sun… just another viewpoint on the already well-known wheel so to speak. So it has to be beautiful, it has to have a purpose and it has to be justifiable. I use as many organic materials as I can. And if the project dictates...I have to have the inside of the home transitioning with the outside, or I go mad!
It's not about me...its about my clients. I want it to look like their home and feel like it’s them. if it’s a commercial project, I aim to give it a shot of soul.
3) From where do you draw your inspiration?
My Inspiration comes from God. The master creator… look outside yourself and your questions will be answered.
Then of course my family and all of my memories and experiences [bring inspiration]. I think a lot of personal life experiences play into developing your taste and style. I had a Grandmother that painted and gardened daily. Her home was always a great inspiration to me. She had this greenhouse that opened into the foyer in this redone carriage house in Yardley, Pa. It smelled like turpentine and hot dirt. It was quirky, but cool. Then she had a studio in the back of the house where the light was best with a hallway that connected the two areas; so when you would enter you got that whiff of turpentine and dirt. It sounds weird, but it’s comforting to me. She always had fresh flowers and lots of light streaming in everywhere. Her husband, my grandfather was an inventor, very much a southern gentleman; birds would sit on his hands and take seed when he fed them. He was very gentle... He impressed me a lot.
My inspiration also comes from being an equestrian, along with many trips abroad foxhunting in Europe and seeing the world.
4) Is there a specific design feature you like to use or feel fits in almost any situation?
Oh yes, I would say a signature piece for me for an interior would be something antique ... every room should have one; even if it’s a book. An exterior signature piece could be a serpentine wall of some organic composition such as brick, stone or a fence line. It just undulates with the lay of the terrain.
5) Tell us a little bit about your first solo design job, was it smooth sailing, or a nightmare? What did you learn?
My first project was a dream project. My clients had just purchased a home and it needed a lot of cosmetic renovations along with an addition, and then total furnishing. The wife wanted to keep the wallpaper and save money. The husband didn’t give an opinion but eventually asked me what I thought. I was afraid to give my honest opinion. I was sweating the idea of having to tell them what I thought because I simply wanted the job. I finally advised them to do it right the first time and to get rid of the hideous wallpaper. He said, “Good, the jobs yours!”
To be honest, clients are paying me for my opinion, and if a designer is afraid to give an honest opinion than they aren’t being true to themselves as a creative individual or to their clients. If that happens, then the integrity of the project can become compromised.
6) What other profession do you think you would love or be good at?
There are quite a few: Set design, the old fashioned way (they never told us about that at career day in school.) Loving history as I do, I wanted to be an archeologist at one point. Honestly, if I could go back in time, I’d love to be an architect; one who draws by hand not in a cad program, which I feel takes the design evolution away from the process.
7) What’s your greatest achievement to date?
My greatest achievement would be still having a business after the horrible recession we have all been through. I’m still young enough, energetic enough and passionate enough to get out of bed each day and enjoy my work and the many wonderful friends I have met in this business (whom I am so grateful for and to!)
Having your own business is a challenge. When I would
complain about the trials of having your own business, my good friend Randall
Tysinger would say to me “H, if it was easy, everybody would have their own
businesses.” I am grateful to be self-employed. I never ever would have
believed it if anyone had told me that one day I would have my own firm.
We love to hear it when people love our furniture (I mean, who doesn't like the occasional pat on the back?) Yes, it tells us we're doing a good job, but it also lets our customers know that we have built a piece that was meant to last. Recently, we have received calls and e-mails from multiple different customers who purchased a Charleston Forge product 20 years ago and want a couple more. They had looked at replacing them with brand new product, simply so they would have matching pieces, but the quality and durability just didn't match what they had grown to love. So, our team custom makes a piece or two to match their current barstool, or table.
However, this story really kind of tops them all. Our marketing director had a chance to speak with a husband and wife who had first hand experience with the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina:
Despite being raised 13 feet off the ground, the first floor of Kay and Chris Harris’ home in Pascagoula, MS found itself under 4 feet of water for days after Hurricane Katrina’s hit the southern US in 2005. Only half a block from the Gulf of Mexico, the Harris’ home had in fact faired far better than many of the homes around it – homes that weren’t raised up on concrete piles.
“They were gone,” Chris said during a visit he and his wife, Kay, made to the Charleston Forge factory in Boone, NC recently.
“The house was severely damaged,” Kay told company co-owner, Susan Barber. “Everything downstairs was destroyed except for your tables and an antique dining table that had been recently rebuilt.”
Despite sitting in salt water for days Chris said that the steel table bases needed only a light sanding and touching up with paint.
“The wooden tops were fine,” added Kay. At the time they owned four pieces of Charleston Forge furniture — two end tables, a sofa table, and a coffee table.
The Harris’, who no longer own the Pascagoula house, now split their time between homes on Beech Mountain, near Boone, and their home in Chocowinity, NC near the Atlantic coast. The furniture is now part of the décor at the Beech Mountain property.
“It’s lasting furniture,” said Chris.
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