Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Custom Cabinet to the Four Seasons Hotel

Over the years we have made a variety of custom furniture pieces for many 5-star luxury hotels including Four Seasons, Mandarin-Oriental, Ritz-Carlton and Umstead Hotel and Spa.

Typically the pieces we make are either the specialty pieces that get showcased in public areas, or custom furnishings that go into the restaurants, cocktail lounges and the most luxurious of penthouse suites.

Today we completed a custom Audio/Video Cabinet that will soon be delivered to the Presidential Suite of a newly renovated Four Seasons Hotel.

This cabinet was custom made out of a combination of FSC certified Ebony veneer, and satin black lacquered panels.

The tops on each of the end cabinets are made of 1-1/4" thick Nero Assolute granite.

The drawers are dovetailed solid maple, running on concealed and self-closing Blumotion linear ball bearing slides.

The cabinet interiors are finished in satin natural maple, and the inlaid grommet in the backs allow for wiring.

After final cleaning and inspection the cabinet is wrapped in tissue and bubble wrap, before being crated for shipping.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Furniture Imports from Asia are now Radioactive Too??!!!

Most people I talk too seem oblivious as to reasons why furniture imports from Asia are so cheap. It has long been determined that the use of illegally harvested timber in unregulated offshore sweatshops goes a long way to explaining the low, low prices at discount furniture stores.

But now there's a new bargain thrown into the mix. Apparently because of the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan last month, and the resulting nuclear disaster at Fukushima, containerloads of furniture bargains coming in from Asia are now turning out to be radioactive too.

This is excellent news for bargain hunters. Perhaps we shall soon see furniture ads that read something like this: "No money down; Don't pay until 2012; and the higher the Micro Sievert reading on your Geiger Counter - the bigger your discount."

Given that most of this crap ends up as landfill within a couple of years anyway, perhaps our government needs to start reclassifying our garbage dumps as radioactive waste sites now too.

Custom Woodwork in the Bentley Mulsanne

In 2010 Bentley Motors reintroduced the luxury Mulsanne to their collection.

The interior of each Mulsanne has a total of 33 hand crafted panels of Walnut Burl veneer that have each been exquisitely fitted into place.

It takes an average of 7 hours to craft each panel, largely because Bentley's quality standards are such that the grain pattern of the entire car is perfectly center matched. In other words, the grain pattern on the door panel on the left side of the car will be the exact mirror opposite to the corresponding panel on the right.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the following video is the way in which Bentley has integrated advanced manufacturing technologies (i.e. CNC and laser) with many traditional Old World techniques of hand craftsmanship.

In many ways this emulates what Philippe Dufour is also doing with respect to his hand crafted watches, although in Dufour's case he limits his use of technology to the CAD (computer aided design) end of the spectrum.

Please enjoy the following video:

Ultimate Factories - BENTLEY MULSANNE - by National Geographic TV. from Colaps T on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Custom Made Inlays for a Custom Made Desk

I've been working with a custom jeweller recently to create some cool inlays out of Gold, Copper, and Sterling Silver.

These inlays will be fitted into a current commission for a Kidney Shaped Desk.

This story will be told in greater detail in an upcoming series of posts.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Custom Made Version of the Ellipse II Dining Table

Some time ago we received an inquiry to build a custom version of our Ellipse II Table. Apparently this client had seen and LOVED the elliptical version of our design, but asked if they could make some changes.

They asked if they could change the species of wood, the grain pattern of the top, the shape of the top, the overall size, the design of the base, the edge profile, and the finish. Oh, and could they also have this table made with extension leaves?

The answers to the questions were: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

The first step in the process was to make a drawing of the proposed custom design, to clarify the proportions and give a clearer sense of what the finished table would look like.

After approval of drawings a finish sample was made to verify the wood and sheen. For this particular project we made the finish sample into a scale mock-up of the table edge profile, to give a better sense of what it would look like.

Upon approval of drawings and finish sample it was time to build the table.

The first step was to lay up the panels that would be made into the top, leaves and pedestal base.

With the table top cut top size it was time to glue on the 3" built-up edge. As you can see, there's truth to the saying that there are never enough clamps in a wood shop.

With the table edges clamped for the glue to dry it was time to make some interlocking ribs as a jig for the inside of the pedestal base.

Compound mitres were used to cut the plywood panels for the pedestal sides. These panels were then fitted around the jig to create the finished profile.

Applying the hardwood trim. More glue, and more clamps.

Additional hardwood ribs were secured to the underside of the top to give added rigidity to the cantilevered design. The dadoed cross rib shown here creates the pocket that will hold the extenders for the extension leaves.

The underside of the table, showing subtop and extender for leaf.

More clamps....

The woodwork is now complete. This view shows the extender closed.

The extender open.

The leaf set onto the extender.

The completed table, now ready for sanding and finishing.

The table base set into the dining room of the client's home.

The finished table, shown in plain sliced walnut with natural satin finish.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

An Interview With Philippe Dufour

Philippe Dufour is arguably the finest watchmaker in the world. Recently I had the honour of actually holding and inspecting one of his masterpieces.

This experience inspired me to learn more about this incredibly talented individual, and in the course of doing this I came across an interesting article written by Pierre Maillard in 2004 for Europa Star. What I found especially illuminating is what Dufour said about the change that has taken place in the high end watch making industry over the years. True craftsmanship has largely given way to standardization and uniformity, even in the upper echelon of the marketplace. Many brands now focus 99% of their energies on marketing and only 1% on true craftsmanship.

So much of what Dufour says echo the things that I'm experiencing in the world of fine furniture making, including seeing the many once proud brands that have since moved their production offshore in the relentless pursuit of the cheapest price - usually at the expense of quality.

I suppose it would be easy for me to lament about this change in the world, but ultimately what does it change? Absolutely nothing.

But it does make me wonder about the future of what I do for a living. In fact, I wonder about this more for the sake of my son Kevin, and I often question whether I am doing my due diligence as a father by encouraging him with this vocation as a career path.

To put it bluntly: "Is there going to be a future for doing fine quality work in this world?"

I have to believe that there is, because despite the challenging economic times I do continue to have the good fortune of finding clients who appreciate the merits of fine craftsmanship.

All in all I found this interview with Dufour to be very inspiring, and I said to Kevin earlier today that maybe it's time to really challenge his skill level by designing and making something especially iconic. Who knows - this could very well turn into a joint father and son project.

In the meantime, I have reprinted Maillard's interview below:

Europa Star: Philippe Dufour, you are a case apart! You make a manual-winding mechanical watch, with three hands, that is quite simple, and you sell it for 48,000 Swiss francs! You really dare…

Philippe Dufour: The price is perfectly justified. And those who are interested in this watch, who understand it perfectly, know that it is. In fact, they will compete with each other to obtain one. But, this watch is rare, so rare that the buyer must wait two or three years to receive one. I must tell you a little story. Not too long ago, I finished one and sent it to a client in the United States. Do you know that he announced its arrival on a website for watch aficionados (Editor’s Note: the site is http://www.thepurist.com/ ), and even published a photo of the wrapped package along with the receipt from Brinks that delivered it. The caption read ‘The watch, you will see it in three days…’

ES: What is the major difference between the ‘Simplicity’ and other watches?Why is there such a strong desire to own one?

PD: I go to extremes in life to do the best I can. In today’s modern movement, born with the 'renaissance’ of the mechanical watch, even in the best of these movements, everything is designed to be made on a machine. Please understand me when I say that even if the hand of man has its role to play, the architecture itself of the movement, like the design of its component parts, is created with machine manufacturing in mind. However, a machine is incapable of making bridges with rounded corners as are done by hand in my atelier. In the 'Simplicity’ watch, there is the enormous added value of being totally handcrafted. There is a certain emotional attraction of knowing that a skilled hand, using traditional tools, has created a personal timepiece. It has its own internal vibration. It is something living and unique…it is poetry from the hand.

ES: In a way, it represents a return to the watchmaking of our ancestors.

PD: I follow the most traditional paths of watchmaking, but without the least nostalgia. I try to perpetuate the savoir-faire of the great watchmakers of the Vallée de Joux region. I try to slow the erosion of this magnificent culture. But, I am a man of today, and the 'Simplicity’ is a totally contemporary timepiece.

ES: Are you saying that there is a risk that the traditional savoir-faire of watchmaking might disappear?

PD: The palette of the craft is shrinking, even in the watch schools. Basically, the schools are in the service of industry. As it stands, the industrial companies, even the best of them, and contrary to what they say, do not need watchmakers in the fullest sense of the term. The industry as a whole needs ‘operators’, adjusters, assemblers, etc. But, they do not need complete watchmakers, except perhaps in a symbolic or decorative aspect. In my opinion, I think that watchmaking should be considered as an art form, with no shortcuts. A student should learn to file a piece of metal even if no one files anything anymore in the industry. It is like a musician…to give his concert, he practices his scales.

ES: Yet, we read everywhere that we are witnessing the great return of mechanical watchmaking. And, it is true that in the entire world, the mechanical timepiece is now enjoying unequalled prestige.

PD: What has facilitated this return is the invention of computer-controlled equipment, the CAD and electro-erosion. Now we can manufacture very complicated watches on an assembly line. But so what? I repeat, in all that there is hardly any feeling, any emotion. Where does the emotion come from? It comes from details, purely details. It comes from the particular brilliance of a piece, the sentiments it gives off.

ES: One could say that you are too attached to the past…

PD: I don’t reject any technology. For example, I hardly ever use the pencil anymore. The computer is an absolutely fantastic invention that I do not want to do without. On the other hand, people must know what to expect from such a tool. I don’t look for feelings or emotion in my drawings and designs, and the computer allows me a level of precision and adjustments that were not possible before. But when I pass to the real object, I put down the mouse and take up the file.

ES: Besides this extreme attention to detail and care, what characterizes your movement?

PD: Although I completely designed everything for the ‘Simplicity’, I did not actually invent anything in the strict sense of the term, contrary to the innovations that I brought to the ‘Duality’. The idea for the Simplicity is based on watches from the 1930s and 1940s, which were well proportioned [Editor’s Note: Simplicity exists in two sizes, 34 mm or 37 mm in diameter] and which were basically problem-free, with extraordinary reliability, showing hardly any wear and tear. I planned everything with this in mind. I use 18,000 vibrations per hour and not 28,800 since that number requires more torque. In the same spirit, I use a Breguet spiral system without a regulator. The calibre is water-resistant to 30 metres and has a working reserve of 53 hours. All these choices were made in order to guarantee that the Simplicity will not wear out. It is a classic watch. The 99th piece must be identical to the first.

ES: In this sense, how many have you produced?

PD: In my atelier, which is the smallest complete manufacturing facility in the world, where I now work with my daughter and an extremely talented young watchmaker, I have produced, in total, six Grandes Sonneries, my first watch, nine 'Duality’ pieces, and now, I am working on my 60th Simplicity, at a rate of about 25 per year. We must have a living out of it…

ES: Precisely, how do organize your distribution?

PD: I would say that my distribution more or less organized itself, as a function of my personal contacts. I must be the only watchmaker on the planet who knows exactly who owns each one of his watches. The only place where distribution, if we can use this word, is organized, is in Japan, where I sell directly to a store that retails the watches. But, this is normal in this case, since I send two-thirds of my production to Japan. What happens in that country for me is quite incredible. When I go there, collectors come from all over and want to touch me. The NHK made a two-hour film on Swiss watchmaking. It devoted 45 minutes to my friend, Antoine Preziuso, 45 minutes to me, and the rest to Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Swatch combined. The film was broadcast nine times on television. I couldn’t believe it. I also receive many orders via the Internet. And, everything is done on trust. People pay one-third down and then wait two or three years to get the watch. I find that it is absolutely marvellous all that I get from a simple watch, all the people that I meet and all the friends that I make from around the world…

ES: When you were young, did you ever dream any of this would happen?

PD: Not for an instant! You know, I don’t want to shock you but watchmaking was not my personal choice. It was a series of circumstances that brought me to it. I come from a simple working family. I was one of four children and my father was ill. I did not particularly like school so when I was 15, I quit. My older brother was able to choose what he wanted to study and decided to go to Lausanne for training. Since my family could only afford to pay one room and board, I had to stay at home. I wanted to be a mechanic but my teacher at the time told me to study watchmaking instead. I began and it grabbed me, and that’s how it all started.

ES: And so, what happened next?

PD: I was hired by Jaeger-LeCoultre. I travelled for them to Germany, followed by England, and then to the Caribbean and the Virgin Islands. There, I visited some 40 watch assembly facilities and saw people of all types assembling movements. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I thought that only the craftsmen from the Vallée de Joux were capable of doing such a thing. I returned to Switzerland and began working for Genta, followed by Audemars Piguet. But I did not really enjoy working in a factory. I no longer wanted to be just another wheel in the gear-train of the system. There was a guy there who wanted to open a small workshop to repair and improve old pocket watches. I joined him and a year later, I purchased the atelier from him. That is how I became an independent. I began restoring wonderful old complicated watches. From that experience, I noticed that the large majority of the pieces sold by the large companies at the time were actually made in the Vallée de Joux. So I said to myself, ‘If they were able to do it, we are able to redo it.’ I got to work and made my first pocket watch movement, equipped with a grand sonnerie. It was wonderful, but I did not have enough money to invest in the case so I went around to try and sell the movement. Audemars Piguet ordered five! This meant five years of work! However, after 5,000 hours of working for other people, I was bitten again by the bug of independence.

ES: How did your real independence come about?

PD: The period from 1989 to 1992 was very difficult. I put myself to work at the computer and in 1992 at the Basel Fair, I presented my first Grande Sonnerie wristwatch. No one was expecting it. It was a critical success, and I was pressured to sell out to a brand, but I decided not to. I wanted to remain independent. So, I took my watch and travelled around the world. It was in Singapore where I met my destiny. I remained in the city ten days and I negotiated during these ten days. When I left, I had sold the wristwatch plus a Grande Sonnerie pocket watch, plus I had orders for three new watches. Things were beginning to take off…

ES: What is your opinion of the watch situation today in Switzerland after the period of rationalization that we have just been through?

PD: I am not very optimistic. I am not speaking from a strictly economic point of view, but I notice that a certain form of standardization is at work, which makes the product less interesting. The marketing people who rule the scene today do not even realize or understand this. The people at the controls do not know watchmaking. There is a loss of savoir-faire that began with the economic crisis. I know many watchmakers who are reaching the retirement age after 30 or 40 years of activity. One fine day they pack up their belongings and turn the page. They are leaving the profession, somewhat disgusted, without anyone realizing they are gone, and without having transmitted their treasure house of knowledge and experience to others. There is loss of motivation, a lack of friendly rivalry. The current managers no longer have the same culture that in the ‘olden’ days formed the basis of a watchmaker’s pride.

ES: Still, at the same time, watchmaking attracts young people ready to try their hand…

PD: Yes, it does, and we welcome some into the Academy of Independent Watch Creators (ACHI). But, it is still a very small world, and the sacrifices required are enormous.

ES: But, to listen to you and to see your eyes light up when you talk about it, it seems to be worth the effort.

PD: Yes, but in this business, you need tenacity, flair, a little talent, courage and a lot of hard work. A grain of folly helps, too. At the end of it all, there is also joy …

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wiggers Custom Furniture Ltd. - Company History

Our website is long overdue for an update. One of the reasons for the delay is because we are looking for a design that can also interface with this blog, as well as my Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook pages.

Because our company's history and furniture making process is going to be an integral part of the updated design, I am going to use this blog post as a rudimentary storyboard to rough out some text and photo images that will likely be integrated into the revised website.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To appreciate the history of furniture making in the Wiggers family it is important to understand the broader historical context of our ancestry.

My family traces its roots back to the small village of Groenlo, Holland which is located in the eastern part of the Netherlands - close to the German border.

Groen translates as green, and Lo means forest, so Groenlo actually means "green forest".

Centuries ago this village was a fortressed settlement known as Grolle, or Grol. The family name Wiggers is indigenous to the area, and it loosely translates as "one who battles".

There is a long tradition of fine furniture making in our family, and one example of a desk made by H.H. Wiggers in the 1800s was even featured on an episode of the "Antiques Roadshow" television program.

This photo shows my grandfather's original workshop in Groenlo, which has since been designated as a protected historical site. My grandfather made both furniture and wooden shoes out of this location.

During the Second World War he was also involved with the Dutch Underground, and amongst other things his shop was used as a secret transfer point to help smuggle shot down Allied pilots back to England.

Wooden shoe making was originally done by hand. However, in the 1920s with the introduction of electricity to the area, my grandfather played an instrumental role with the invention of the first machine to automate the wooden shoe making process. The original machine is shown in the photo above.

After the war there was a tremendous period of rebuilding and growth, which fueled a considerable demand for furniture. My grandfather then went into partnership with his brother-in-law to form a furniture company known as Thesseling-Wiggers-Groenlo.

By the 1950s he began to wind this facility down to move his family overseas to better opportunities in North America. The photo to the right shows my father Johan, who was then aged 19 and trained as a cabinet-maker. He arrived in Canada with little more than a box of tools and $40 in his pocket.

With no money to go into business on his own my father worked as a foreman at a local factory. In his spare time he made furniture in his basement workshop.

The photo shown here was taken in 1961, and it shows me at the age of 2, as I begin my informal apprenticeship with my father.

By 1967 it was time to go out on his own, and it was then that my father founded Wiggers Custom Furniture Ltd.

Initially he worked out of the back of a rented barn, but before long word of his work began to spread and he was able to build his own workshop.

One of Johan's first employees was a brilliant wood finisher by the name of Art Welton, who had recently emigrated from England. Art soon earned the nickname of "Picasso" for his ability to match stains and toners with exceptional clarity.

In the wood shop Johan worked for many years alongside a diligent craftsman by the name of Karl-Heinz Federmann.

By the 1980s the company was enjoying steady growth, and in the process was able to purchase a wide array of precision woodworking equipment. These machines made it possible to produce ever finer and ever more meticulous pieces of furniture.

In 1982 a visitor from the United States happened to see an example of our work, and referrals soon led to work with interior designers and architects in Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami and New York. Although this created opportunity for massive expansion and growth a conscious decision was made to keep the company small to maintain firm control over quality with a keen eye for detail.

Today Wiggers Custom Furniture Ltd. works out of a well equipped 12,000 sq. ft. shop with a small crew of highly skilled artisans crafting high quality furniture and built-in cabinetry that gets shipped as far away as Kuwait, Russia and Japan.

As a throwback to a largely bygone era there are no assembly lines to be found anywhere in this facility. In the tradition of the Old World craftsman each piece continues to be individually crafted by hand on a bench to exacting standards of quality.

Although he's now retired, company founder Johan continues to play an active role teaching his grandson Kevin some of the finer points of veneer and inlay work.

Final sanding and prep work for finishing continues to be done by hand so that all details can be fully inspect in a manner that will best enhance the grain of the wood.

A variety of fine finishes can be applied to our furniture, ranging from lacquers to high gloss polyurethanes and other low-VOC options including water based finishes. Specialty work including gold and silver leaf and inlays such as mother-of-pearl are also available.

Fine quality craftsmanship and personal attention to detail are not marketing buzzwords in our shop; it is the tradition way in which we have always worked in our shop.

As a small family run woodworking business we welcome any inquiries you might have for fine quality custom furniture and built-ins.