Vermont Furniture Encyclopedia
Introduction to Vermont Furniture
Vermont is the Fine Furniture Capital of America. The Green Mountain State is increasingly recognized as the country’s leader in high quality, handmade wood furniture. Vermont boasts over 1000 furniture companies plus 2000 independent woodworkers operating out of small shops, barns and garages. They produce a diverse collection of wood furnishings for every taste and budget and together they have earned a world-wide reputation for integrity, authenticity and green design.
Below you’ll find information on the History of Vermont Furniture, Vermont Furniture Makers, Vermont Furniture Styles, Sustainability and Vermont Furniture, Woods Used in Vermont Furniture Making, Education and Training, Vermont Furniture Quality and Craftsmanship and How to Find and Purchase Vermont Furniture. Interested in learning more? Send us your comments and questions on Facebook and help keep the conversation about this unique form of American craftsmanship alive.
History of Vermont Furniture
Vermont furniture making history can be traced back to the 17th century, and by the 18th century almost every town in Vermont had woodworkers making furniture, tools and utensils. Wood products became the single most important manufacturing industry in Vermont during the 19th century. It was then that Vermont made wood products began their long history of export to customers all over the U.S. and abroad. Wood furniture, wooden cutting boards and bowls, bowling pins, baskets, drumsticks, toys, musical instruments, golf tees, cheese boxes, wooden dolls, gun racks, Scrabble tiles, snowshoes, clothes pins, and wooden shipping boxes were (and continue to be) all products of a thriving Vermont woodworking industry.
Forest To Furniture
Perhaps the biggest contributor to a growing fine furniture and woodworking industry was the character of the land in Vermont. According to The History of Woodworking in Vermont, "It is estimated that forest covered 90% of Vermont in the 1760s, when many towns were chartered. Travelers in the 1700s would have found extensive forests of various species that were 6 feet in diameter and as high as thirteen-story buildings; some more than 300 years old."
In such an abundance, “wood created an identity for many Vermont towns. They have similar stories of logging, lumber mills, and a continuous succession of wood products manufacturers. In some towns, wood industries provided income for the majority of the population. Technology and products changed with the times to increase production and efficiency, meet market demand, and capitalize on popular trends and tastes. Owners of the mills and factories became community leaders who took responsibility for the commercial and civic growth of their towns.”
Notable 18th and 19th Century Craftsmen
Furniture makers hailing from Wilmington, Norwich, Middlebury, Shaftsbury, Rutland, Charlotte, Putney and Bennington were among the master craftsmen of 18th and 19th century Vermont. Some prominent luxury, custom furniture makers of the time include:
- George Stedman, Norwich, Vermont, c. 1800-20
- Asahel (b. 1759) and Martin (1778-c. 1830) Cheney, Putney, Vermont, 1798-1803
- Hastings Warren (1779-1845), Middlebury, Vermont
- Asa Loomis, Shaftsbury, Vermont, c. 1815-20
- Nahum Parker, Middlebury, Vermont, c. 1825-35
- Levi Pitkin (1774-1854), Montpelier, Vermont, c. 1800
An example of furniture manufacturers from this era is the H.T. Cushman Furniture in North Bennington, VT. The company opened in 1892 creating popular colonial furniture which was exported from Vermont to the rest of the United States and overseas.
Where To View or Purchase Vermont Antique Furniture
Antique dealers throughout the Green Mountain State display relics of the early Vermont furniture industry. The Shelburne Museum, Bennington Museum and Skinner Auctioneers have recently showcased Vermont made furniture collections and pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries. Elaborate grandfather clocks, chests of drawers, secretary desks, sideboards and bureaus made with exotic wood veneers (such as tiger maple, flame birch, birds-eye maple and mahogany) are typical of Vermont fine furniture from this period.
For further information about the history of woodworking in Vermont, email info@VermontWood.com or visit the Vermont Wood Manufacturer's Association website.
Contemporary Vermont Furniture Makers
Today's Vermont furniture makers are known for their dedication to quality, authenticity and community. Home to over 1000 furniture companies plus nearly 2000 independent woodworkers operating out of small shops, barns and garages, The Green Mountain State ranks #1 in furniture makers per capita. These artisans produce a diverse collection of wood furnishings for every taste and budget. Together they have earned a world-wide reputation for innovative, natural styles and green design.
During the late 20th century, when furniture companies from across the USA began outsourcing top American brands (including Ethan Allen, Bassett, Broyhill, Thomasville, La-Z-Boy and Lane) to Asia, Vermont companies (with the exception of Ethan Allen) stayed home. They remained true to their values of quality, community and local economies. Below is a list of notable contemporary Vermont furniture makers, sorted by size and specialty.
Small Specialty Custom Furniture Makers
- Dorset Custom Furniture owned by master craftsman Dan Mosheim, specializes in unique, one of a kind furniture, including massive, natural, live edge tables. These and other works of art are featured on Dan's popular blog, A Woodworker's Journal. Dorset, Vermont.
- Holman Studios - Artisan furniture maker, Steve Holman jokes that "a week in the Davidson College infirmary produced an epiphany that saved me from a life in my family's car business and saved my family's car business from a life with me". Lucky for his fans and collectors worldwide, because perhaps the most creative and fanciful Vermont made furniture comes out of Steve's studio. An insider's view of the workshop can be found on Steve's blog. Dorset, Vermont.
- Greg Goodman has spent over 20 years traveling to luxury resorts like the Hamptons of Long Island creating custom cabinetry for the rich and famous. Now he stays put in his Brattleboro studio. Greg specializes in unique, custom creations including live edge walnut slab tables. Brattleboro, Vermont.
- Kit Clark Furniture produces hand-sculpted, custom-fitted rocking chairs based on the principles of creative design, functionality, and extreme beauty. These extraordinary wood rocking chairs are guaranteed to express a delicate balance of artistic flavor and function. North Ferrisburgh, Vermont.
- Timothy Clark Cabintemaker andChairwright designs and builds custom solid wood Shaker and early American furniture. Signature work includes his "floating back" Windsor dining and rocking chairs engineered for comfort. Tim is known for his hand shaped chair parts and hand cut dovetail joinery.
- Charles Shackleton was born and grew up in Dublin, Ireland. As a young man he brought the traditional styles of handmade furniture making to Vermont. Simple, elegant hand-carved curls are a subtle design element and a whimsical trademark of Charles' work. Recognized by the Vermont Senate as Vermont Woodworker of the Year, Charles is one of the founding members of the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers. He has written multiple articles for Fine Woodworking Magazine, and has designed for thousands of private individuals, including celebrities and dignitaries. He is the founder of The Naked Table Project. Bridgewater, Vermont.
- Bob Gasperetti creates unique custom furniture, typically inspired by Shaker and Arts & Crafts styles. A versatile artisan, Bob also works with homeowners who have lost beloved trees to weather and age, transforming them into cherished family heirlooms of their own design. Bob's workshop is in a quintessential Vermont barn, set in the heart of the Green Mountains. He encourages customers to select their own wood from a treasure trove of beautiful wooden planks, burls and slabs he's been collecting over the years. Mount Tabor, Vermont.
- William LaBerge is Vermont's authority on Greene and Greene style furniture, inspired by Japanese art & architecture and the English Arts-and-Crafts movement. Bill is also known for his high end mission, Shaker, Zen and prairie style custom furniture creations, including Tansu chests, Morris chairs, Limbert benches and Frank Lloyd Wright dining tables. Fine details such as exposed joinery, cloud lifts, ebony inlays and dancing peg joinery characterize his work. Dorset, Vermont.
- Fine Wooden Furniture created by Joe Breznick focuses on Shaker designs and architectural cabinetry. Known for artistic interpretation of client styles and attention to fine details. Londonderry, Vermont.
- WallGoldfinger creates ultra luxury, custom board room furniture for the most prestigious businesses in America. Fortune 500 corporations, leading financial and insurance institutions, nationally known law firms, and many of the finest universities are Wall/Goldfinger customers. Randolf, Vermont.
Large (>50 employees) Furniture Manufacturers
- Copeland Furniture has been producing wood products and fine furniture since 1976. Tim Copeland started out as a one man shop and has grown his company to over 80 employees. Copeland Furniture's commitment to environmental preservation and stewardship are demonstrated in their extensive use of Copeland is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood. Copeland's designs draw from the Arts & Crafts, Mission, Shaker, Mid Century Modern and Scandinavian movements as well as the natural surroundings here in Vermont. Bradford, Vermont.
- Lyndon Furniture founded by David Allard in 1979 has evolved from a small workshop in Dave's family home to a 140,000-square-foot furniture making shop that employs over 80 craftspeople. Lyndon combines traditional American craftsmanship with environmental stewardship to create their eco-friendly furniture. Shaker and mission style furniture, crafted with sustainably harvested solid hardwoods (cherry, walnut, maple and oak) are Lyndon's specialties. Lyndon, Vermont.
- Pompanoosuc Mills furniture company was created by Dwight Sargent in 1973 and specializes in contemporary and transitional solid hardwood furniture. The company manufactures more than 2,300 items and offers woods from several North American hardwoods including cherry, oak, maple, walnut, birch and bird’s eye maple. Pompy has 130 employees and eleven retail stores located throughout the Northeast.
- Ethan Allen Furniture was founded in 1932 by two brothers-in-law, Nathan S. Ancell and Theodore Baumritter. The firm has been sold and re-sold to global conglomerates and is no longer headquartered in Vermont. In 2001 Ethan Allen closed manufacturing plants in Island Pond and Randolf, VT reducing the states industry jobs by about 1/3. A small manufacturing plant remains in Orleans, VT however the majority of Ethan Allen furniture is now made overseas.
Vermont Furniture Associations
- The Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers is an association of master level furniture makers dedicated to the promotion of quality craftsmanship, excellence in design, and the pursuit of artistic vision. Membership in the Guild is juried by the 28 existing members, many of whom have been recogized nationally and internationally for their world-class designs and craftsmanship.
- The Vermont Wood Manufacturing Association includes over 100 primary and secondary members of the Green Mountain State's woodworking industry. Member companies employ approximately 6000 people and produce wood furniture, bowls, toys, carvings, flooring, windows, doors and more. VWMA's mission is to support the industry in Vermont and promote its long-term viability by expanding members presence in the marketplace, ensuring a sustainable supply of raw materials, increasing workforce skill and acting as responsible employers and community members.
- Vermont Wood Net is a community of VT woodworkers striving to promote the state's wood industry capabilities through networking, collaboration and education. WoodNet's goals include providing a voice for Vermont's highly skilled craftspeople and a means to market their wares to the world.
- The Vermont Crafts Council. Founded in 1990 by a group of crafts people and representatives of Vermont craft organizations from around the state, the Vermont Crafts Council focuses on education of both the public and the visual arts and crafts community the Crafts Council conducts outreach within Vermont and nationally.
Vermont Furniture Styles
Vermont style furniture is known for the use of organic solid wood, clear natural finishes and fine craftsmanship. The favorite hardwood among craftspeople and customers is American Black Cherry although a variety of other North American woods including walnut, oak and maple are also prevalent. Popular style categories include:
- American Shaker Furniture - Born in the Northeast, the Shaker furniture style is a simple, utilitarian design characterized by straight tapered legs, woven chair seats, and mushroom-shaped wooden knobs. Original Shaker furniture was produced by communities of the United Society of Believers starting in the late 1700's. Today's Vermont made Shaker style furniture ranges from a strict interpretation of the original Shaker pieces to many variations on the theme, often incorporating modern functionalities, curves and hardware. Simple aesthetics and sturdy design remain at the heart of today's Vermont Shaker style furniture.
- Mission, Craftsman and Arts & Crafts Furniture are characterized by rectilinear design, simple, straight construction, heavy proportion and exposed joinery, often using medium or dark stained oak. Drawer pulls are often simple round brass rings or rectangular back plates of solid brass with canted corners and an oval bail handle. Today's Vermont made mission, craftsman and arts & crafts style furniture ranges from Copeland's strict replicas of Frank Lloyd Wright furniture to modern Contemporary Craftsman furniture.
- Mid Century Modern Furniture design has been embraced by Vermont's Copeland Furniture company as they have greatly expanded their offerings over the last decade. Clean, sleek, unadorned lines characterize the classic style of America's mid 20th century designers. Copeland's interpretation of this retro art form is found in their Catalina, Soho, Astrid and Dominion bedroom furniture collections.
- Contemporary Furniture designs from the late 20th century and early 21st century have come to life in Vermont in styles like the Contemporary Cable Collection, the Modern American Collection and the Modern Designer Collection. Simple design, clean lines, minimalistic shapes and highly functional, space-saving features define this furniture category.
- Rustic Barnwood Furniture has recently become a popular Vermont product. A plentiful supply of timbers, siding, doors and decking rescued from Vermont’s old barns and historic buildings provides recycled raw materials rich with character. Antique or reproduction hinges, stained glass, and maple sugar tap hooks are often employed to add artistic value and uniqueness.
- Custom Artisan Furniture: Vermont's vibrant artisan community, scenic beauty and forested terrain attract woodworkers from all around the globe. The state's custom, one of a kind furniture is considered world class and often turns up in prestigious public and private collections. Juried festivals and shows throughout Vermont make these remarkable unique works of art accessible to locals and visitors.
Woods Used in Vermont Furniture Making
- American Black Cherry Wood is a favorite among Vermont furniture makers as it is a stable, workable hardwood that develops a lustrous, rich reddish brown patina over the years. Natural cherry wood starts out a light pinkish color and darkens over time with exposure to light. Because American black cherry fruit trees are not particularly well suited to Vermont's climate most Vermont cherry furniture originates from well managed forests in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
- American Black Walnut Wood is the only really dark North American wood. It polishes to a beautiful smooth finish and the color ranges from creamy white in the sapwood to a dark chocolate color in the heartwood. There are over 20 species of walnut trees but it is the Eastern Black Walnut tree (aka: American Walnut) that is native to North America and is used for our walnut furniture. Vermont is home to a limited number of walnut trees as our soil is too acidic and our climate too cold. Much of our black walnut wood comes from Ohio, Indiana and other mid-North American states where it grows well and is sustainably harvested.
- Sugar Maple Wood (aka: hard maple) is Vermont's most abundant species and a mainstay of many of Vermont's woodworkers. Maple heartwood is usually light reddish brown but sometimes considerably darker (dark maple is often mistaken for cherry wood). The sapwood is usually white with a slight reddish-brown tinge. Maple is heavy, strong, stiff, hard, and resistant to shock. It has a fine, uniform texture with generally straight grain, but variations such as birdseye, curly, wavy or fiddleback grain occur and are often selected for specialty custom artisan furniture.
- White and Red Oak Woods are solid, sturdy and very durable hardwoods with generally uniform coarse texture and prominent rays. It is not uncommon to find different grain contrasts in the same piece of solid oak wood furniture. The contrast between the look of oak heartwood and sap wood is much less than for cherry wood. Oak wood may darken slightly over time, taking on more amber tones however the change is very subtle, unlike the significant color change with cherry wood. Mission, Craftsman and Arts and Crafts style furniture often employ oak wood. Logs are typically cut in quarters (quartersawn oak) to highlight their unusual grain. Vermont furniture makers typically use locally harvested oak or Pennsylvania grown oak.
- Other local and regional woods inlcuding ash, birch, beech and aspen are used to a lesser extent in Vermont furniture making. In addition, custom furniture makers sometimes employ the use of sustainably harvested exotic hardwoods such as mahogany, lacewood and bubinga in the creation of high end artisan pieces.
Vermont Furniture Quality and Craftsmanship
Vermont is known for fine craftsmanship and the high quality of it's wood furniture. Thousands of furniture makers call the Green Mountain state their home. Vermont furniture workshops range in size from a single craftsman to a couple dozen to the larger companies (Copeland Furniture and Lyndon Furniture) that employ about 75-100 craftspeople each. Some furniture makers craft ultra luxury artisan custom furniture and each of their pieces is unique, made in a small studio, usually by a single artisan, with the occasional help of an apprentice or a family member. Other craftspeople produce more classic handcrafted wood furniture designs which they make routinely at affordable prices.
The large number of small, custom workshops and studios tucked into Vermont's working landscape is what distinguishes our state from America's other furniture producing regions. Each of these creative craftspeople has his or her own time-tested furniture making techniques and finish routines.
Education and Training
Education and training in the Vermont woodworking industry ranges from techniques handed down through the generations to self teaching to formalized training (both on the job and in trade schools, colleges and private studios).The Vermont Woodworking School in Cambridge is a very popular, well-respected educational institution for woodworking, offering immersion programs, short classes, workshops and degree programs (in coordination with Burlington College).
Sustainability, Local Economies and Vermont Furniture
Prior to the 1960s the USA dominated the global furniture industry with quintessentially American companies (like Lane, Broyhill, Thomasville, Ethan Allen and La-Z-Boy) producing high quality products in North Carolina, Vermont, Massachusettes, Indiana, Virginia and elsewhere. At that time, wood was harvested locally and regional craftsmen were employed making furniture a vital US industry. But by the 1980s globalization was setting in and America's top furniture manufacturers began a mass exodus to China. Loose regulations and cheap labor & materials quickly led to the outsourcing of America's furniture industry to Asia (today nearly 75 percent of all wood furniture is imported).
Vermont was the one state that resisted this 20th century trend of outsourcing to Asia. Vermont's major furniture companies (except Ethan Allen Furniture): Lyndon Furniture, Copeland Furniture, Pompanoosuc Mills, Newport Furniture and New England Woodcraft along with medium sized and small custom furniture specialists stayed in the Green Mountain State. The philosophy of Vermont's fine furniture industry remains today, much the same as it was a century ago. Drawing on local craftsmanship, local and regional sustainably harvested wood, Vermont's furniture makers continue to embrace the values of quality, sustainability and community.
How to Find and Purchase Contemporary Vermont Made Furniture
Options for purchasing handcrafted Vermont made furniture range from visiting individual craftsmen in their studios to purchasing online. Below is a run-down of popular choices:
- Small Custom Woodworking Studios - For the unhurried traveler, a favorite way to shop for Vermont made furniture is to tour through the state's backroads visiting craftspeople in their workshops and showrooms. A map of Vermont, showing woodworkers located in every corner of the state can be obtained from the Vermont Wood Manufacturer's Association.
- Frog Hollow is a non profit arts organization representing over 200 Vermont artisans working with wood, clay, ceramics, jewlery, fiber, metal, photography, painting and more. Shoppers can visit Frog Hollow's retail store on Church Street in downtown Burlington, VT or purchase handmade furniture and crafts online.
- Vermont Artisan Designs, a fine art and contemporary American craft gallery on Main Street in Brattleboro, VT features unique handmade wood furniture crafted by Vermont woodworkers. Glass, fiber, sculpture, paintings, jewlery, music and more are also celebrated in this gallery. Artisans are from Vermont and other New England states.
- Vermont Woods Studios began in 2005 as an online venue for Vermont woodworkers to reach out to customers beyond the state's borders. The website features thousands of Vermont fine furniture pieces for sale by the Green Mountain state's most popular furniture makers. A destination shopping experience is currently taking shape in Vernon, Vermont to further connect customers to Vermont made furniture and the craftspeople who create it.
- The Fine Furniture Festival in Woodstock, Vermont takes place every year during leaf-peeping season (the last weekend of September). It's a gathering of the state's premiere woodworkers, showcasing fine furniture, sculpture and crafts. Named one of New England's Top 10 Fall Events by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce the festival is an opportunity for shoppers to purchase fine furniture and learn about the forests in Vermont that supply our lumber. Free tours of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, the oldest sustainably managed woodland inNorth America are available.
- Craft Fairs and Open Studio Weekends, sponsored by the Vermont Crafts Council. Each Spring (Memorial Day weekend) and Fall (first weekend in October) Vermont's Craft Council sponsors an open studio weekend when furniture makers and other artisans throughout Vermont open their studio doors to travelers and shoppers. It's an opportunity to connect with the craftsman and see the quality and authenticity that goes into handmade crafts.
This encyclopedia is a work in progress. We welcome your input as we continually revise and update this page. Please send your comments to peggy@VermontWoodsStudios.com.