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.
Here shoppers will find information on the history of Vermont furniture, Vermont furniture makers, Vermont furniture designs & styles, sustainability, Vermont furniture companies, woods used in Vermont furniture making, education and training of Vermont furniture makers, Vermont furniture quality and craftsmanship and how to find and purchase Vermont made 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.
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.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to a growing fine furniture and woodworking industry was the character of the land in Vermont. It is estimated that forest covered 90% of Vermont in the 1760s, when many towns were
chartered. Travellers 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 Vermont furniture companies. 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.
An example of Vermont 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.
An exhibit on the history of Vermont furniture up to 1850 was featured at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT in 2015. The Rich and Tasty exhibit “expanded popular understanding of Vermont high style furniture. It revealed the exquisite craftsmanship of individual forms and encouraged a wide audience to learn about regional tastes and economics that help define Vermont furniture’s stylistic features and unexpected aesthetic innovations in the early decades of the nineteenth century".
A unique collection of Vermont made furniture crafted by Quaker cabinetmaker Stephen Foster Stevens, is on display at the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, VT along with his account books, photographs, and other personal items. Details at Quaker Made.
Antique dealers throughout the Green Mountain State display relics of the early Vermont furniture industry. The Vermont Antiques Dealers' Association has events featuring their antique furniture. The Shelburne Museum, and Bennington Museum 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.
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:
Cherry wood starts out a light pinkish tone right after the tree is cut and milled. Over time, with exposure to light, cherry darkens to a rich reddish brown. Read: What Color Is Real Cherry Furniture?
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 companies 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. 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 variety 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 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). A few of our most popular learning venues are:
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 (some sources estimate that over 75% of wood furniture sold in the USA is imported).
Vermont was the one state that resisted this 20th century trend of outsourcing to Asia. Vermont's major furniture companies: Lyndon Furniture, Copeland Furniture, Pompanoosuc Mills and Newport Furniture 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.
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:
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