Simplicity and craftsmanship are Henrybuilt's hallmarks

How to spot high quality

"We thought it would grow slower," laughs Scott Hudson ofHenrybuilt, the furniture and kitchen design company he foundedwith friend Peter Strang. Although it has been in existence foronly 2 1/2 years, the company, with a retail showroom on Seattle'sWestern Avenue, has catapulted into a highly successfulbusiness.

Before Henrybuilt, Hudson worked in the publishing industry. Onlong business flights between Seattle and Japan, he filledsketchbooks with drawings of furniture. In 2001 he asked Strang, alongtime friend who was involved with construction andcabinetmaking at the time, if he would be interested in a jointventure. "We started out looking at it as a sideline thing,"explains Hudson. But clients came quickly, and before long, ordersthat began with a table were ballooning to include a sideboard,kitchen cabinets, and beyond.

Strang and Hudson ― both modest to a fault ― seemgenuinely surprised by their company's rapid success, but it's easyto see what's gotten them here. On Western Avenue, where a handfulof European importers offer sleek but not always well-constructeddesigns at break-the-bank prices, Henrybuilt offers an alternative.By controlling every step of the process ― design,manufacturing, and retailing ― Henrybuilt is able to givecustomers more for their money.

"Our clients are dealing with a craftsperson, not asalesperson," Hudson says. "If someone comes into the showroom andsays, 'I really love that, but it is 84 inches long and I have an82-inch space,' it's no problem. We can make it any size."

Furniture for everyone

What's absent from Henrybuilt's furniture is as important aswhat is present. There are no glitzy metal finishes, no heavilylacquered surfaces, no decorative ornamentation, and no woodstains. The designs grow from the function of the piece and aredriven by the process of construction and the nature of thematerials. The wood, including cherry, mahogany, walnut, andbamboo, is left as natural as possible, and details such asinterlocking joinery at the corners allow you to see how the piecesare put together. The resulting aesthetic is modern andminimalistic, but at the same time warm and approachable.

Henrybuilt is named for the owners' grandfathers, who were bothnamed Henry and who both worked with their hands to make enduring,utilitarian products. But Hudson and Strang also feel that the nameconveys the down-to-earth image they want their company to have."We don't want people walking by and saying, 'I can't go inthere,'" Strang says.

"Our customers are regular people," Hudson adds. "They arenurses, engineers, graphic designers, and PR people." And many areoutdoorsy people ― a quality that Hudson and Strang findintriguing. They think there might be a parallel between outdoorgear and their furniture, because both are meticulously engineeredfor functionality and durability.

Fittingly, Strang and Hudson have a democratic leadership style.Each project is "owned" by a lead cabinetmaker, who follows itthrough to completion. The status of each project is updated dailyon a wipe board that takes up a full wall of the company's nervecenter ― an office space carved out of the noisy butextraordinarily tidy workshop. If a cabinetmaker comes up with abetter way of making something, it is chronicled in a productionreport and incorporated into future pieces.

Where do they want to be in 5 to 10 years? "At home," jokesStrang, a new father. Hudson chimes in, on a serious note: "In 5 to10 years we want to be doing the same thing ― butbetter."

INFO: Henrybuilt (closed Mon; 913 Western Ave.; www.henrybuilt.com or206/624-9270)

How to spot high quality
A high price tag doesn't ensure high quality. Consider thesepointers from Scott Hudson and Peter Strang when shopping forfinely crafted furniture and cabinetry.

  • Look for solid surfaces. "Solid materials wear and age more beautifully than veneers and can be refurbished again and again," Hudson explains.
  • Pay attention to veneered components. Make sure a good substrate, such as plywood, is used; fiberboard and microdensity fiberboard are inferior. And solid-wood "nosing" ― a piece of solid wood glued to the edge of the plywood ― is superior to veneer tape.
  • Ask how the furniture is finished. Conversion varnish is stronger and more moisture-resistant than lacquer.
  • Examine the joints. Overlapping connections are far stronger than dowelled and glued joints. For stronger joints, finishing work should be done after assembly.
  • Ask about the warranty. Henrybuilt offers a lifetime guarantee with respect to defects in material and workmanship. "Any good custom cabinetmaker should stand by their work," says Hudson.

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