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.
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.
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
Have you heard about Rue La La yet? Rue La La is an awesome site dedicated to all things shopping. Items range from children's clothing and accessories, to name brand design, purses, shoes, clothing, and even furniture (of course they carry furniture... and OUR furniture too.) These limited number items all sell for spectacular deals and come with a time limit. Once the sale is over, its over.
Rue La La holds events, today they are having the "Orange Event." Starting at 11am, all things orange are featured and at incredible prices. Charleston Forge has three drink tables featured on the front page of the event.
If you dont have an account, be sure to head on over and create one... its a shoppers paradise.
So many furniture manufacturers are located in areas of the country like Upstate New York, and Hickory or High Point, NC (the furniture capital of the world,) yet we are one of the few who are not. Instead we call the mountains of NC home. The area is the home of magnificent views, such as those from Grandfather Mountain, and the often-photographed Linn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Home to all kinds of artisans and craftspeople, some of whom focus on tiny details when creating lovely jewelry; while others follow family traditions when building delightful handcrafted mirrors or hand wrapped traditional wedding brooms.
Boone, Blowing Rock, and the surrounding areas are steeped in history and beauty. The winters bring fluffy white snow (often just in time for the Holidays,) decorating the mountains and valleys in a white silence. The spring and summers are lush and green, full of life with beautiful light streaming through the trees, the temperature rarely rising above a comfortable 78 degrees; and the area during the fall is one of the most spectacular places in the country to see the changing of the leaves. Bright oranges, yellows and reds stretch for miles, creating a splendid golden hue, especially during the hours of sunrise and sunset, where one can just bathe in the warmth of the golden light, while cuddling up to a loved one with a favorite oversized sweater and cup of rich hot chocolate, warding off the crisp cool nip in the fall air.
Quaint little downtown areas welcome shoppers and diners, the stores catering to a wide array of visitors, yet very few sell by corporate names or product. During a weekend visit to the area, a shopper can pick up a cute little metal knickknack creature, with charming buggy eyes, sweetly named “doodlebug” (a fond childhood nickname) as a gift for their mother, or a scenic canvas by a local artist whose talent recorded the splendor that is the area. They can dine at a restaurant whose menu changes day to day, only serving gourmet dishes made from local seasonal items, and then attend a winery for a “grown in the High Country” wine tasting. They can take a day hike to a beautiful waterfall, or an afternoon drive armed with a picnic basket filled with delicious local meats, cheeses, wine, and skillfully hand decorated, made from scratch cupcakes. They can ride on horseback and tour the trails and mountains, and during the warm summer evenings, catch a show by a community theater production.
While Boone and the High Country does not have the amount of steel, concrete, shopping malls and name brands that cities like New York, Atlanta, Dallas or even Charlotte does, it does not lack in culture or beauty. There is far less traffic and far more nature, far fewer crowds and far more distinct seasons. The area cradles our craft, our design and our people, nurturing its growth while reminding each of us to enjoy the beauty set out in front of us, rich and radiant. We’ve never found a place we’d be happier to call home.
We would love to hear back from our readers. Feel free to post a comment or feedback below.
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.
- "Still Southern Made" - Southern Living Magazine
- Charleston Forge, Custom Made
- Charleston Forge Introduces Writing Desks
- Photo Shoot in Historic Market Square, High Point NC
- April 2014 High Point Furniture Market
- Charleston Forge and Rooster's Wood-Fired Grill
- Customer Service at Charleston Forge
- The Cake Tester and the Cake Baker
- John Winer, A Man of Full of Color among Shades of Grey
- Anna Lehman, The Psychology of Design