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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

This month:

Fine Furnishings Show Is Inspiring

The Sign Of A Good Host

The Other Sign In My Shop

Bone-Headed Woodworking Tips

Mise En Place

Fine Furnishings Show Is Inspiring

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

For the second year in a row I made the long trek to Milwaukee's Harley Davidson Museum to visit the Fine Furnishings Show, owned and operated by KL Communications in Tiverton, RI. The "KL" in the company name is Karla Little, who launched the first Fine Furnishings Show in 1996 in response to market trends she observed and her belief that craftsmen needed an opportunity to show and sell their work to a wider audience. Since that first show in Rhode Island, KL Communications has expanded the show's venues to include Baltimore and Milwaukee.

Figure 1 - The Fine Furnishings Show is a great
opportunity to be inspired by other craftspeople and

The annual shows are heralded as "offering American made handcrafted furniture and accessories." Of course, as at most every other trade show, the be-all, end-all answer to leaf-clogged gutters was there hawking their wares, but the rest of the displays were all furniture and furnishings. By floor space, probably 90% of the show space was filled with furniture; lamps, picture frames, carvings, and other bric-a-brac took up the balance.

Last year the trend toward "live-edge" or "natural edge" slabs in tables, coffee tables, benches, and more was ascendant. This year there was still a plethora of "live edge" work, but a new trend of what I call (for lack of proper terminology) "mixed media" furniture began to appear in sizeable numbers. This is furniture that incorporates steel, stone, or other components along with the wood. Many of these pieces were described with terms such as "green" or "recycled." Some were quite unique, some were beautiful, and some were clearly experimental, not quite fully realized, and perhaps intended principally as conversation pieces.

A marketing trend I have seen before was certainly more prolific, aided and abetted by technology. The "back story" is what I call it when craftspeople use photos, literature, slide shows, and videos on iPads and laptops to describe the production of a piece from beginning to end. Some start their story with the felling of the tree, move through the sawing of boards, milling the lumber to size, joinery and finishing, all with a hard focus on any "hand" processes employed. Of course, everyone had an "environmental" angle, too. One artisan touted that all of his wood comes from trees downed by storms or killed by construction, while another extolled the virtues of the environmentally safe finishes he uses.

Other than a sidewalk display of patio furniture (very nice, by the way) that was obviously produced in batches and in some quantity, everything in the show appeared to be unique, one-off, inspired works of art... or at least produced in such small quantities that each could truly be considered "individual." The craftsmanship was uniformly exceptional. The designs, for the most part were pleasing. And lastly, the asking prices seemed fair. In fact, considering the craftsmanship, I thought some of the prices were too low.

Not to pick nits, and this quite probably was a function of the exhibit hall and not the show management or exhibitors, but the lighting was a tad bit low. I found myself struggling to see the detail in some pieces of furniture and the quality of the finish. But again, this is a smallish point. I suppose had the light been brighter I would have struggled to see all of the nice "back story" work on computer screens.

The attendance at the show appeared to be good, thus I would anticipate (and hope) that KL Communications might further expand the show to additional cities. In the meantime, if you live near or can get to one of the cities where the show is scheduled, add this to your "to do" list. You will definitely be inspired by the works, perhaps get a few new ideas, and possibly even be humbled a bit. Highly recommended.

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