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.

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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.

1 comment:

  1. Hello John....I just found this page while while browsing for information on Dutch furniture makers. Your rich heritage is very nicely presented. I also can trace my roots to the same great grandfather was a builder and finish carpenter in Holland. Regrettably, almost no information about him has survived other than family legend. You are fortunate to have access to your predecessors in keeping the tradition alive.