NBN has known more than a few artisan wood workers and understands that an avid passion for making fine furniture combined with extreme talent doesn’t mean that sales come knocking on the hand hewn door.
It seems, at least from our anecdotal research, that its nearly harder to find customers than it is to find a public bathroom in Manhattan. The folks that most often fall in love with handcrafted furniture are the plain Jane’s, modest people who can’t afford it but wish they could, while those with deep pockets are both harder to reach and often too hamstrung to see beyond the glitz of fancy furniture showrooms and their interior designers limited imagination.
So we decided to ask Peggy Farabaugh at the innovative Vermont Woods Studios some questions about the challenges of building green hand made furniture at a time when even hedge funders are heading to Ikea.
First a little background information. Vermont Woods Studios is comprised of a talented group of furniture makers, working in independent small studios scattered across the state. They share a passion for excellent furniture design as well as sustainable forestry. All their products are made from Vermont hard woods.
Recently these folks have added some new technological twists to their sustainable hardwood goods that are bound to grab lots of attention. Wondering how to keep that flat screen from flattening the feng shui of your Tribeca floor through? Well lucky for you, Vermont Woods has the answer.
If you want the TV in your living Vermont Woods’ retractable pop up TV console is your new best friend and a beauty to boot.
But if you like watching TV in the snug comfort of your bedroom don’t despair. Vermont Woods can make your night right with their Vermont Modern Bed with, believe it or not, a retractable lift for your flat screen dream machine.
Not what one expects from a state that probably has the highest per capita number of Kill Your Television bumper stickers, but a brilliant way to reach out and touch someone’s interior designer who wants something special.
Below you’ll find Farabaugh answers about the issues Vermont Woods faces in selling green luxury furniture in the midst of a recession. Surprisingly, the challenges she notes are quite similar to issues facing the organic industry as well.
Be warned that if you do read on, you might think twice before heading to the giant yellow and blue furniture and frozen meatball emporium selling furniture with funny sounding Swedish names.
Peggy Farabaugh of Vermont Woods Studios on the Challenges of Selling Green Furniture:
I can think of several issues we face in creating hand made green furniture in the current economy.
Consumers have grown so accustomed to buying cheap imported, unsustainable furniture that they get sticker shock when they see how much
it costs to buy authentic, American made, handcrafted furniture. Believe it or not, furniture in the big box stores today is cheaper than it was 30 years ago. How many items can you say that about?
It’s because the vast majority of our furniture has been outsourced to China, Vietnam and other Asian countries, whereas it used to be made in North Carolina, Vermont and other rural, wooded regions of the country.
This imported furniture is often made from illegally harvested wood that’s clear cut from rainforests in Brazil and other Amazonian countries. The logs are shipped to China where they are milled and then often shipped to other Asian countries for assembly into furniture. There is no element of social or environmental responsibility in these products.
[In addition] Handmade furniture takes time to build, typically 8-10 weeks. We build each piece of furniture to order as opposed to the imports which are available as cash and carry. On the positive side, we can make customizations at little or no extra cost. That way, customers can have their furniture made to fit in their spaces or made to match existing furniture styles in their home.
Shipping is also a challenge for us because our furniture cannot be boxed and carried by freight companies. It must be handled with extreme care by knowledgeable professionals. We prefer blanket wrap shipping as well, so that we minimize or eliminate the use of packing materials that will land up in a landfill. This type of shipping service is hard to find and can add as much as 6-8 weeks to the process.
Greenwashing is also a challenge as every furniture company now calls itself a green furniture company. I often find myself explaining to customers that we are not a furniture company that went green. We are a
group of passionate environmentalists that work with sustainable wood to make beautiful furniture.