Custom Furniture Maker Remodels Studio Craftsmanship
Brian Boggs Chairmakers designs and builds elegant home furnishings with a sustainable business model
In Asheville, NC, the growing mecca for craft brews, artisans and musicians, a new sort of custom furniture company is quietly remaking studio craftsmanship for the 21st century. Founded by an unlikely partnership of top-tier business consultant and veteran furniture craftsman, the three-year-old Brian Boggs Chairmakers is equally committed to both profitability and social conscience. Their innovations are worth watching for anyone interested in furnituremaking, and the future of micro-business in general.
Brian has been a chairmaker for 31 years. Ever since he taught himself from a copy of John D. Alexander’s “Make a Chair from a Tree,” demand has been constant. As soon as you see one of Brian’s chairs, you know why. Light gleams on the polished hardwoods, across timeless construction and lovingly shaped details. Popular Woodworking magazine’s Matthew Teague recently called these “arguably the most comfortable wooden chairs ever made.” At their gallery in Asheville’s Biltmore Village, an audible sigh escapes each lucky visitor who sits in a Boggs chair for the first time.
Furniture this well-made is the exception rather than the rule in an age of mass-produced goods. Brian has kept the historic craft of chairmaking alive in his attention to comfort, quality and detail – honing his art over a lifetime. Even among fine woodworkers, the many intricacies of chairmaking make it a trying and rare specialization. As a result, many of the nation’s best cabinet and table builders sit down for dinner in a Boggs chair. Each of these chairs is built to last for generations, which to Boggs is the only sensible approach. “I want all of our furniture to last long enough for the next generation of trees to grow,” he says. “That’s not too much to ask.”
After 30 years of building a successful chairmaking business, Brian Boggs faced some difficult decisions in 2008– as did many businesses in the wake of the economic downturn. This wasn’t the first hardship Boggs had pulled his company through, but rather than simply laying off his employees and cutting back until times took a turn for the better, he decided that this was his opportunity to build a better mousetrap.
And so, in the spring of 2008 Boggs closed up his shop in Berea, KY, relocated to Asheville, North Carolina, and set about rethinking the artisan furniture business from the ground up. Along the way, he met his business partner (and later wife) Melanie Moeller Boggs, an accomplished and forward-thinking business consultant who was also looking for ways to remake the landscape of small business.
“What we’re building defies categorization because it’s essentially a hybrid entity,” comments Melanie Moeller Boggs from her office adjacent to the workshop’s gallery space. “The typical furnituremaker, while extremely gifted at their craft, is unlikely to be adept at the myriad skills required for running a successful business,” continues Moeller Boggs. “Finance, sales, marketing, back-end and supply-chain strategies – these are things that most people are trying to learn on the fly, and the truth is that lack of these skills is the primary cause of failure for creative businesses.”
“This is where we come in. We’re offering these craftsmen a pre-existing infrastructure for all those needs, from advising, procuring materials and tools, sales, and marketing – while leaving their creative direction and freedom completely in their own hands.”
While Melanie guides the office wing, Brian draws on decades of his own experience to oversee the training and ongoing support of craftsmen who can adopt his techniques to make their own innovative and traditional wares. Under his guidance, the workshop draws on some of the best aspects of the classic guild system of centuries past, such as universal guidelines for pricing and standards of work.
“The idea” says Boggs, “is to give the craftsmen real metrics for judging their productivity against well-established standards. If it’s taking you 40% longer, for instance, to cut a mortise for a table base then you’d know that this is an area where you’re likely to find improvements.” That level of standardization and scrutiny helps find the bottleneck in work habits or designs in a business that has traditionally been rather insular and slow-to-standardize in the past half century.
For an operation that draws so much from tradition and past experience, Brian Boggs Chairmakers is also remarkably forward-thinking and global in perspective. Brian and Melanie take an active role in collaborating and nurturing relationships at every stage of the business chain, from sustainable timber harvesters internationally, to the artisans working with the materials, and finally to selling finished products that will last for generations. By rethinking traditional craft business models, they hope to prove that making quality handmade goods can offer a decent living for a modern craftsman, provided he doesn’t operate in isolation.
“We’re leveraging our own for-profit enterprise to develop an infrastructure that can also support other like-minded businesses,” says Moeller Boggs. “We talk about it in terms of developing an ecosystem for small artisans, providing them with access to channels and expertise that are incredibly hard to develop for what are typically one or two person firms.”
About Brian Boggs Chairmakers
Headquartered in Biltmore Village, just minutes from downtown Asheville, North Carolina, Brian Boggs Chairmakers represents a new business vision that fosters the highest levels of design, craftsmanship and sustainability in handmade wooden furniture. Our model integrates four key components: materials, workspace, training and visibility, creating opportunities for landowners, loggers, sawyers and craftspeople to work collaboratively to meet our clients’ needs through a mutually supportive and sustainable partnership.
Contact: The press may set up interviews with Brian and Melanie by emailing Melanie@brianboggschairmakers.com or calling 828-398-9701. These photos are free for use by the press; for all other uses (or for photos at 300 dpi), please contact Brian Boggs Chairmakers.