Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Journey Continues (Pt. 11) - The Call From Brueton

When I was told that J. Wade Beam from Brueton was on the phone I thought for sure that someone was playing a practical joke on me.

Brueton at the time was one of the world's elite high end furniture companies. Wade was both the chief designer and Director of Sales and Marketing for them, and for the past five years I had been trying (without success) to meet with Wade each time I travelled to New York. Each effort made at their showroom in the D&D Building was rebuffed by the same reply: namely that Brueton did their own woodwork and didn't require outside vendors.

After confirming the call was for real I asked why he was calling. Wade told me that Brueton's primary focus was stainless steel, and they had near zero in-house woodworking capacity. They were looking to expand the wood side of their business with some new designs, but to do this they needed talent. Apparently he'd heard of us through the industry grapevine and was calling to see if we were interested.

Were we interested?

Let's put it this way: If you're a car maker and a guy named Enzo Ferrari calls to see if you want to build some high end cars with him, what do you say?

Hell, yes !!

For months on end we worked intensively with Wade to develop a wide range of new designs, which were eventually unveiled at NEOCON in Chicago. It was during NEOCON that I finally met the company's owner, Leo Fromm.

Mr. Fromm was a successful publishing magnate from Germany who owned several companies. His interest in owning Brueton seemed to stem from his absolute love for fine furniture. I got the impression that, for him, owning Brueton was akin to why some men own professional sports teams - for the love of what the franchise represents, and a passion for excellence.

In the photo above Mr. Fromm is reviewing one of the new Concerto Table prototypes. He especially loved how the 4-way box match of the Crotch Mahogany top formed a pattern that, to him, looked like a butterfly's wings. I was astounded at how something so seemingly simple could move this man so deeply.

It wasn't long before company president Howard Chapman sat down with me to write out a slew of orders. With several strokes of the pen we were suddenly very busy again.

The ensuing years turned out to be an especially exciting time for us, because many of the designs coming out of Brueton really pushed the envelope of our woodworking and finishing capabilities.

The Virginian Credenza was probably the most difficult of all the new prototypes. Maybe for that reason it was also one of the most satisfying pieces we have ever produced. The main body was comprised of two half shells - each made of an inner and outer kerfed ply filled with epoxy resin, which was then vacuum formed around an elliptical plug.

The back shell was fitted with shelves and dividers, while the front was cut into doors. The top was center butt matched Crotch Mahogany trimmed with ribbon sapele. The stainless steel detail at the floor is actually convex in shape, to emulate the curve of the casework. All exposed woodwork was finished in high gloss polyester to accentuate the grain.

The Virginian Table presented some challenges of it's own. While the elliptical base was easy enough to make, shaping the bottom of it to match the freeform curve of the stainless steel plinth as challenging to say the least. The box matched Crotch Mahogany top was encased in a 3" band of solid ribbon mahogany, which needed to be step routed by hand with custom carbide to achieve its deep elliptical profile.

Concerto Tables had quirks of their own, especially in final assembly. The holes in the stainless steel ring had to align perfectly with the leg bushings for these tables to be symmetrical.

During its peak years Brueton was a magnet for creative talent such as Mitchell Pickard - shown here testing out his new Melrose Chair. In subsequent years we would collaborate with Mitch on on many of his furniture designs, including the Angeline Console which was recently featured in "500 Cabinets" by Lark Books.

As a testament to his creative range Mitch is currently designing and building some very cool custom motorcycle wheels and parts at his own company, Pickard USA

Our collaboration with Brueton allowed us to produce some exceptional custom furniture pieces, including this 22' long boardroom table for the New York Yankees professional baseball team. What isn't apparent in the photo is how we managed to subtly blend 3 elliptical spline segments into a functional ergonomic shape. This table would otherwise have been "pointy" at the ends had a pure ellipse been used.

Prior to shipping we stuck a Toronto Blue Jays sticker to the underside of the top.

I never heard if George Steinbrenner found that funny.

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