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This year's Furniture Society Conference was held at Appalachian State University, a beautiful campus nestled in the heart of North Carolina's Smoky Mountains.
If you like making artistic contemporary furniture and want to hang out with other oddballs like yourself, The Furniture Society is the only game in town. Members include studio furniture makers, professors and teachers, designers of production pieces, museum curators, and even a few period furniture makers interested in the state of the art. It is a big tent, but at the center are the designer/makers, people who simply want to make furniture that refuses to compromise on either form or function.
The annual Furniture Society Conference moves from place to place but is usually held on the campus of a college or university that specializes in the fine arts, so the college’s furniture specialists can take part.
This year’s conference was held June 10-13 in Boone, North Carolina, at Appalachian State U., nestled in the heart of the mountains.
This is the second conference I have attended and unfortunately this year’s theme, on the industry and commerce of furniture-making, didn’t fit Fine Woodworking’s focus as well as past conferences have. It did fit the location though, as North Carolina is the center of American factory furniture-making. The keynote was by Mitchell Gold, who runs a 700-person high-end furniture manufacturing business in the state. He focused on how to run a successful company, whether small or large, and his tips included:
1. Being determined to succeed and ready to work long hours to do so.2. Trusting your vision and design sense, but knowing when to give up on a failed design, one that just won’t sell.3. At the same time being ready to capitalize on a huge success, and gearing up to produce more product at the first sign that you have a hit on your hands.4. The importance of both “earned” and paid advertising. The former means positive media coverage, and Gold said that the way to get it is to make things as easy as possible on the busy journalist. I second that. As for paid ads, he showed how very distinctive ads, ones that had an edge but matched the feeling of his furniture, were essential to his growth.5. But most of all, Gold stressed the word “comfort,” and explained how it permeated all aspects of his business: for his staff, suppliers, and customers most of all. He worked to make his furniture comfortable for their bodies, lives, and décor, and made the buying process comfortable for them.
Despite the industrial focus, there still were some nuggets to be picked up by small-shop pros and hobbyists. Paul Henry, who teaches woodworking at Palomar College (Calif.) gave a wonderful demo on the simplicity and effectiveness of hammer veneering, proving that it is the easiest way to veneer free-form curved surfaces. After a brief demo, he stepped away from the glue pots, and handed the veneer hammers over to the audience, who had a blast laying down the diamonds of a harlequin pattern. On Saturday, Fine Woodworking sponsored a demo by recent contributor David Finck, on mastering handplanes, based on his FWW article and video.
Mitchell Gold spoke about his highly successful design and manufacturing business. He and his partner started the wave of slip-covered furniture a few decades back. He emphasized finding a niche and specializing.
As always, members were invited to show their own work at the conference. This re-interpretation of a Chippendale chair, by Worth Squire, is a good example of how a skilled designer/maker can take a classic piece in a new direction.
Another nice piece in the members gallery. This one is by Andy Pitts, of Heathsville, Va. Check out more of his work at www.AndrewPittsFurnitureMaker.com
No detail was overlooked in this fine piece.
Some members also donated pieces to be auctioned for charity. The auction was a lively event, attended by well-heeled members of the local community. I really liked this wall cabinet.
I really wanted to bid on this 50s-Modern chair in the charity auction, but then I simultaneously remembered my journalist's salary and heard my wife's voice in my head.
Paul Henry showed attendees the speed and ease of hammer-veneering, an age-old technique that relies on heated, animal-based glue. He then turned the hammer and glue pot over to them.
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Thanks for covering the show in this year of tight funds and even tighter travel restrictions. I know that the people who visited the conference were singularly focused on not only the business side, but also on the renewed desire to master the design challenges in front of us. And a plug for the Furniture Society 2010 conference which which will be held in Boston at MIT.
I just got home from this conference and really enjoyed myself. I have a small 1 man shop and even though the theme was "Industrious", I benefited from a wealth of information on a wide variety of subjects. There was only one slot where I didn't find any presentation of interest over the 3 day period. Michell Gold's (and Vladimir Kagan's) talks were nothing short of inspiring! Going to the various presentations and talks, I met a wide range of woodworkers almost all extremely friendly and willing to talk about their situation as well as listen to mine. I highly recommend any professional woodworker join this organization and try to make it to the annual conference.
Sorry for the late credit, Andy. I fixed the caption. I'll be doing more blogs on the conference, so stay tuned.
Oops! In way of followup from above, I tried opening the pix in a different browser and now they open just fine. Sorry for the confusion. Guess I need to change browsers...
The bottom left piece, where you said you would have to check you notes for the maker (and top right detail) is my "Shadows of Night", seen in the FWW.com Gallery at http://finewoodworking.taunton.com/item/5412/shadows-of-night
It's tough to capture how wonderful the annual Furniture Society conference is for anyone interested in very fine furniture, so thanks for the blog! I hope you will also do the same through FWW in print. I know that a lot of readers would be interested in learning more about the Furniture Society, an organization open to all, and why conference is "summer vacation" for a lot of us. By the way, can you make the thumbnail pix open to larger photos? You have some nice shots here, but hard to see.
This week's prize is a 7-piece router bit set from Whiteside valued at $118!
Make something fun while learning new skills
Fast, fun approach to making a comfortable, casual seat
In this video Michael finishes the first of the three boxes. Gluing-up, planing, sanding and finishing bring a new piece of art to the world.
In this video Michael starts work on the second box, a carved and painted Saddle lid box.
Michael begins carving the saddle lid box with his ripple pattern along the top. Then turns to his 5/30 gouge to texture the sides of the box. This isn't work…
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