Before the mass exodus of American furniture manufacturers to China, the pricing gap between low and medium, medium and high-end furniture was not very large. For a mere hundred dollars, a client could upgrade from an entry level veneered dining table to a solid wood table. However, with the rise of imports, the price gap between low-end goods and medium end goods grew rapidly. Now the difference between an imported entry-level table and a solid-wood table can be several hundred dollars.
“It’s this price spread that put a lot of solid wood companies out of business,” says Chuck Kuder, Sales Manager of Country View Woodworking (CVW).
These solid-wood companies typically inhabited the middle price points, but their demise left a void in the furniture industry. Enter Amish furniture manufacturers. Because of their simple lifestyles, Amish craftsmen are able to provide durable, handcrafted furniture at exceptional value.
It is finding this niche in the furniture industry that has helped the Amish reemerge from their decade long hiatus following the end of the country furniture craze of the 1990’s.
A Brief History
Nestled in the gently rolling hills of Holmes County, Ohio is the largest Amish population in the world. This farming based society entered into the furniture industry several decades ago as a way to support their growing communities.
Far from the sophisticated techniques Amish companies employ today, the first Amish furniture was constructed in barns with natural light and hand tools. A different woodworker often made each piece. For example, it could have taken five craftsmen to create a dining set.
“One [Amish woodworker] would make hutches, another chairs and another would apply the finish.” Kuder recalls.
The tourists who visited Amish country often returned home with these handcrafted pieces, helping to spawn the country furniture movement of the 1990’s. The demand was so great that individual craftsman could no longer keep up with it. As a result, they banded together forming companies.
The Amish Advantage
Unlike imported furniture, which is usually ‘what you see is what you get,’ Amish goods allow clients to choose from a variety of options including wood species, finish, size, and leg style. In some cases, Amish manufacturers will even build furniture based on clients and interior decorators own designs. These a la carte options, combined with solid-wood construction and the durability of hand-made furniture appeal to consumers who want to express themselves through their homes.
Roy Miller, president of CVW, cites the self-discipline and work ethic of his fellow Amish craftsmen as part of the reason their quality far exceeds that of import furniture of similar price. Each piece is meticulously hand-sanded to ensure the pieces drawers fit properly and the English dovetails (the puzzle-piece like corners of well-made drawers) are tight.
For Miller, it is this commitment to detail that elevates his craftsmen from simple order takers to true artists. “Our heart and soul goes into every piece of furniture. It’s more than just a job. We really care about the furniture we’re building.”
What the Future Holds
Both Miller and Kuder foresee the term “Amish Furniture” disappearing. “I already see Amish Furniture becoming synonymous with American made.” And perhaps they are right. With so few solid-wood companies still made in the United States, the Amish manufacturers could soon outnumber them, if they do not already.
Palettes by Winesburg. n.d. (Bedroom Image)
Our Town, Holmes County Ohio. n.d. (Holmes County Image)
CVW, n.d. (Upholstered Bed Image)
CVW, n.d. (Round Pedestal Table Image)
Canal Dover, n.d. (Grey Dining Set Image)