I started Irion Co. Furnituremakers in 1977, after learning the trade from my father. He started his business, The Berwyn Furniture Shop,in 1948, initially to repair and refinish furniture and to restore antique furniture, then evolved into making furniture as well, and then started selling furniture made by others as well as operating an upholstery shop and a decorating business. Having raised a family and educated his children, he wanted to get back to working in the shop full time and be done with the retail world, so he basically parted out his business and real estate and moved to New Castle, Delaware, a very early and historic town on the Delaware River, where he opened his new shop with living quarters above and continued to make furniture under his old business name, Berwyn Furniture. It was an intentionally small space, so that he wouldn’t be tempted to grow his business again”, and other than an occasional helper that he enjoyed teaching, he worked alone making furniture for the next 25+ years.
In the meantime, I was suddenly left without a place of employment, and my future wife was in her last year of college, so I bought a building a few towns over in Paoli, Pa., set up the ground floor as a woodworking shop, set up living quarters above just like my father, and started my own adventure in woodworking. Within a year I was joined by an old friend and fellow woodworker, Chris Arato, and together we worked to establish a shop making the best 18th century furniture that we could. The reality was that we mainly repaired and refinished furniture, and then got heavily into restoring period furniture for antique dealers and private collectors to finance our main interest, making furniture. We were fortunate to be in the right area at the right time to capitalize in a renewed interest in hand crafted 18th century furniture, and eventually were able to to leave the refinishing/repair business behind to focus all of our efforts on making furniture.
During this time we were competing with the period furniture or antiques, and also getting a chance to really see how this furniture was made in the process of restoring and repairing it. We didn’t want to have to apologize for selling reproductions, and we saw the quality of the wood in the originals, so we came to the conclusion that if we made good wood the focal point of our furniture, it would have merit of its own. At this time there were no alternative lumber dealers, just the major wholesale lumber yards that were not interested in words like grain, figure,and width, their deal was commodity lumber, and they did not really want or appreciate our business unless we were making furniture for them personally, which we actually did a lot. So like any journey that starts with a single step, we started going to sawmills and having them cut lumber to our specifications, which morphed into buying logs from tree surgeons and out of people’s yards, then going to log brokers and buying truckloads of logs and finding sawmills that would pull the specialty lumber like curly cherry and tiger maple for us.
Sourcing lumber, buying logs, getting them cut to our specifications, drying and organizing the wood became a full time occupation, as was running the shop, and there was a family to raise, so in 1995 we sold the shop to some key employees to focus on the lumber while we continued to be their principal supplier. We were constantly running to northern Pennsylvania, so we decided to move our lumber operation here to be closer to our sources, and with more trees and fewer people, it has worked out for us. The shop flourished under the new owners, furnituremakers with a lot of experience and a real passion for their work, and they took the shop to a higher level, as evidenced by the following article in the magazine Fine Woodworking on The Greatest Collection Ever?, (click here for the article) a whole house furnished with some of the finest designs ever produced in this country. As the world turns, an interested party made an offer that the new owners couldn’t refuse, and the principal owner and furniture guru of the shop, Kendl Monn, had a flourishing side business restoring and cleaning very valuable painted furniture and folk art, so with the approval of the rest of the crew, they decided to sell.
Business, like many thing in life, can be very humbling, and due to a multitude of converging circumstances, including the great recession, changing taste in furniture and some questionable management, the business known as Irion Co.- Furnituremakers closed its doors in 2011. From a seven figure job, an article in Forbes magazine, and a crew of experienced and talented woodworkers, it was a hard fall for everyone involved, and a difficult event for those of us who had worked so hard for so many years to process. The shop pretty much splintered, with employees going in many directions, some leaving the trade completely. Since Irion Co-Furnituremakers has no presence on the internet, we continue through our association and the way search engines work to get inquiries from old customers and interested parties regarding what happened to the shop and if anyone is still making similar furniture of the same designs. There are a number of craftsmen from the Irion shop that are still making furniture, and we have ended up functioning as a referral service for the various craftsmen. So if you have a furniture inquiry, we will be glad to talk with you as to your needs and then offer the names of some of our old employees that are still trying to ply their trade. We are not involved in any way in the business, and are offering these names for you to contact directly and decide if they can meet your needs. We are not working on any type of commission or other financial arrangement with any of the craftsmen, only trying to connect interested parties with the folks that trained with us and are trying to continue the tradition.