Why the human touch is so important

A Human Touch: Thoughts on Craftsmanship in Home Furnishings by Brownlee Currey

Written by Brownlee Currey

You know that new thing that just arrived? That lamp, chandelier, or vase which was just unpacked? There is something you may not be considering: someone, more likely than not, made it by hand. This is true of so many things that we buy: clothing, shoes, jewelry, and most home furnishings. For most of these items, our first response when we look at them is not “I bet that was made by hand”. Home furnishings manufacture in particular, is in most ways a handcraft business. And by handcraft that we mean “crafted by hands” often with less machinery involved than you might think.


That lampshade you have? A worker carefully tucked the fabric around that frame and then hand sewed in the lining. It probably took her about two hours, more, if she made the trim herself.


That beautifully decorated vase that just came? While often pottery is cast into a plaster mold, the decoration is always applied by hand. Those designs were scratched into the clay by hand, and then the color applied by steady, steady hands, with a brush.



Those new wooden floor lamps that just came in? The wood was turned on a lathe, and then given to a carver to shape. Those wavy lines and slightly uneven surface were left behind by his tools, markings that, no machine can replicate.


That iron chandelier which was just installed? It took a lot of people to put that together. Different pairs of hands, bent the iron, forged the details, cleaned up the joints and welded it all together. Other hands painstakingly drew wire through it. More hands prepped, primed and painted. Perhaps, very skilled hands applied gold leaf. Other hands connected the electrical workings. It could be that another applied crystal, or other details. And a last, careful set of hands packed that chandelier.


The wonder of all of this handwork is to be found in all of the detail it provides to the objects that surround us. Perhaps, the most remarkable aspect of all this, is that handwork can provide such remarkable levels of consistency. Personally, I think this speaks to the care, skill and dedication of the craftspeople making our products.

Most walk into a room and see the stuff, furniture, rugs, perhaps lighting. I would challenge you to walk into the same room and see all the talented people that made it possible.

All images courtesy of Brownlee Currey



Building chandeliers

I have been learning a new craft recently: manufacturing lighting. Little did I know that so much labor went into the building of a chandelier. It is intricate work, and the skilled artists that I have been working with have patiently instructed me on how to do it. Each crystal has to be tied by hand utilizing brass wire that the builder must bend and shape meticulously. The crystals have to hang a specific way, and have a virtually identical wrap ( for example: the loop must have 2 circular wraps below it.) We use a special pair of pliers to create the loop, and they assist in pulling the wire tightly as you wrap.


Here are a couple of examples that I made last week. The one on the bottom took me 8 hours to complete with the guidance of a 10 year veteran named Reinna.

chandelier 1 chandelier 2

My new Employer!


If you love trend setting and truly beautiful furniture, you should visit Currey and Company’s site. I am very proud to accept a position they created for me as the Product Technician Supervisor. The company not only has an impressive collection of furnishings, but they also have an impeccable reputation within the furniture industry.  Their leaders have vision, they are innovators, and have a commitment to quality in every aspect of the company. I know I will learn a lot from them.

Currey 2

The future of box stores….

Restoration Hardware1

As internet shopping becomes more popular, even with furniture, the freestanding store will become less and less important to retailers. Think about it. Real estate is expensive. Another fact is that many sales people will spend lots of time with consumers who visit a store only to return home and make their purchase online. Maybe the solution is to have fewer stores; but have stores that can draw people to them from longer distances.

Best Buy quit displaying Apple’s I-Pad because too many people that visited the local store, and then made the purchase online from the comfort of their home. They came in to merely play with it; to experience it personally with the assistance of the sales team. The sales person became reliant on their number of hours worked rather than the number of commissioned sales.  This reality has had a huge impact on the role of those employed in sales in all facets of retail. Maybe the role of the traditional sales person will evolve in the same way as the freestanding store… fewer may be better.

Few people would drive long distances to spend a great deal of time in a typical electronics store. They don’t go there for the experience of the purchase, but shopping for furniture should have an impact on someone’s life. People like to take their time without constant pressure to make a purchase because they will literally be living with their decision. Restoration Hardware may have the right idea here. They have created stores that are an attraction by themselves. They have chosen to set up shop in well known landmarks that have grandeur. By paying attention to the architecture and creating floor displays that accent the building itself, they will find that people will not only come from a distance to have a shopping experience- they will also not want to leave without taking something with them.

Great idea.


Table and chair refinish

I recently purchased a Maitland Smith dining room from Habitat for Humanity. The table and chairs were probably 25 years old, and I knew I had to have them when I saw one of the Chippendale side chairs. The table was a double pedestal with a solid mahogany top that needed some work, but the only real issue with the chairs were the tacky upholstered seats.

I went online, and found that Maitland Smith still made this Regency Chippendale set, and the chairs were $699 each, and the table was $4999 at Furnitureland South. Habitat wanted $400 for the table, 2 arm chairs, and 5 side chairs- what a deal! So I crammed them in my F-150 and took them home where they sat for months in my garage.

I finally decided to touch up the chairs, and then totally stripped the top. Being solid wood, I was able to steam out the deep impressions, and sand the rest of the imperfections. I used a penetrating stain, and then sealed the top with a vinyl sealer. After the 2 coats of sealer dried, I filled the grain and then scuff sanded the surface until it was perfectly smooth. Then I finally sprayed 5 coats of flat pre-catalyzed lacquer.

I sanded the surface with 600 grit and buffed the top only to find 3 or 4 places where the grain showed. My wife said that no one would ever notice it, but I decided to break out the grain filler and re-coat the top again with 2 more coats of lacquer. Then I buffed it out in 3 stages and it was a perfectly smooth top that looked wet. It was so perfect that the top actually looked like fake wood to me.

After looking at this table for a couple of weeks, the shiny look did not grow on me, and I decided that I did not like it. I cleaned it, and since I had used flat lacquer when spraying it I knew that if I sprayed a pure solvent like a drying retardant, it would dry flat and smooth. So I did it- my wife thought I was crazy to take a chance on messing it up. But it turned out perfect, and with a flat finish around a 40 sheen.

A friend of mine said that he needed a formal dining set in a newly renovated home, and I described the set to him. He immediately sent someone to my home with a check. He picked out the fabric for the chairs, and I reupholstered the seats. The set looked so good that I wished I had kept it. How often does someone come across a $9000 dining room set for $400? But I have young children that would have done terrible things to it- so I did the right thing. It was fun just working on it. Here are some after pictures that I took with my phone:

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My brush with fame

Duane Allman

I was in Richmond Hill, Ga a couple of years ago on a service call. When I pulled up to the neighborhood gate which was on an old rural road in the middle of nowhere, I called the customer’s cell phone number and only got voice mail. The greeting message that I heard said, “You’ve reached Gregory, please leave a message.” So I did. Soon after, a lady met me at the gate and we proceeded into the neighborhood.

The road was lined with old Live Oak trees filled with Spanish moss. I pulled up into the driveway to park, and then we went into the house through the garage. The garage was spotless with a checkerboard floor, and it housed a couple of cars hidden by covers. The house was neat and was decorated with an eclectic sense of style. I proceeded to the bedroom to make some repairs to a poster bed.

After making the repairs, I was walking through the house and passed an interesting man’s cave. There were 4 old restored barber’s chairs that sat in front of a large screen TV. You know the ones, chrome with red leather seats… but I believe the red leather had been replaced by spotted cow hides that still had the hair on them. Awesome! And as I kept walking, I passed an old black and white framed photograph on the wall. It was a bank of a highway that had a carving dug into the side of it that said “REMEMBER DUANE ALLMAN”.

How odd, I thought. Who would have that iconic picture on their wall. Next to it I saw another picture of a man with long hair and a pony tail. He had a beard and the face of a famous rock star. Then it hit me. I was in Gregg Allman’s home. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be there- his assistant told me that he was working on putting together a tour with Alex Cooley.

She told me how he was nothing like most people think. A man of many talents. She even told me that he had decorated the entire home by himself… and it looked great.

I would have loved to meet him, and hoped he would call back needing something else- but it never happened. But I still had his cell number….



Have you lost your color with age?


Why do people purchase leather furniture? Most will say it is because it is durable, it looks expensive, and is easy to take care of. Sounds good, right? But, is it really true? Let’s take a closer look at modern leather furniture.

Leather is usually sold as being the most durable upholstery you can buy. I have seen furniture that is over 20 years old that looked great, and I have seen leather pieces that were just a couple of years old that looked like they were at least 20. If it comes from the same animal, why then such a difference in wear? It has to do with money. Companies have found faster and cheaper ways to tan a cow’s hide and color it- this keeps the production prices low. If they followed the same process as was used 2 decades ago, leather furniture prices would be outrageous. Factories can now produce a finished hide very quickly using a variety of chemicals. They can split a hide very easily up to 4 times and emboss grain into it while adding the color at the same time. It’s very scientific and very efficient. Unfortunately, it’s not always very durable.

People love the expensive look of leather, but they don’t always like an expensive price. The truth is that nowadays you can find leather that is cheaper than many textile upholstered pieces. This can be accomplished by matching leather with vinyl, or by using scraps sewn together. Some companies even grind leather scraps to make a bonded hide that is sold as genuine leather even though that 80% of it could be the binder and the other 20% leather fibers. It is best to make sure you are purchasing a piece with a true leather hide that has been processed correctly with color that will not rub off with normal usage. That’s the real secret to making a purchase that you will be happy with for years, but the color loss issue is becoming more common; even with reputable furniture stores.

My wife has a Wilson’s yellow pigmented leather purse that has been tossed around, mistreated, and thoroughly used for years. It looks great believe it or not. This goes to show that it is still possible to get leather that is durable. I see dozens of pieces of furniture each week that has considerable color loss on the seating area, headrest area, and arm pads. These are usually marketed as “aniline dyed” leather, but they are not even though they look like it. Some of these items I see are just a few months old! A true aniline dyed hide will get more supple with age, develop an aged patina, and the color is a saturated dye that should penetrate the full depth of the hide. If your “aniline hide” furniture starts becoming lighter on the welting, seating edge, or in areas where there is much contact then beware. It will continue to worsen and cannot be permanently repaired. If your leather has color that has begun to peel off like a bad sunburn, it had a pigmented topcoat that did not adhere correctly.

Test it

For new furniture there are a couple of things to look for. If it has detachable seat casings, unzip one and look at the back side of the hide. If it is a different color than the top side, then the hide is pigmented. That means it has a flexible urethane color on the surface… which is not necessarily a bad thing. If it is the same color, then it has been dyed. Now it is time to test the color. Take a soft white cloth and ask the salesperson to allow you to rub some leather conditioner on the piece in an inconspicuous area. Rub firmly for at least 15 seconds and look at the cloth. If you have color on it- then don’t buy it.

If the furniture in your home has color loss and it is less than 1 year old, call the customer service department to report it before it is out of warranty. If the color is peeling off, take a piece of blue painter’s tape and press it firmly on the area of concern. If it pulls up color when you remove it, look at what is stuck on the tape. If the color has fibers sticking to it, then the hide was not tanned properly and there is nothing you can do except let it fall apart in time- no repair here. If the colored surface stuck to the tape is smooth, then the color did not bond well to the hide- this is purely cosmetic and can sometimes be repaired by a pro.

It is wise to beware of cheap priced leather. I like leather, but prefer cloth. It can be just as durable, look just as expensive, and be easy to care for. Textiles breathe, they are not cold to sit on in winter, nor are they hot and sweaty to sit on in summer. You can find leather with those same characteristics, but they are the real high end hides- and are not cheap. Unless you do your research, your best bet is to look online at the reviews of whatever it is that you like. Customer feedback is a great way to determine how your potential purchase will perform. Remember that color loss on leather is only normal for a low end hide- which should not be on high end priced furniture.



More compliments from customers

I will sometimes post compliments from people I am able to help. It’s very easy for people to comment online about negative things, but it seems truly difficult for most folks to find the time to write a simple compliment. That is why I am proud of the ones that I get. I enjoy being able to show that there are people out there with enough character to take the time.

compliment 2

compliment 1

Reclining sofa adjustment

When the tops of the backs are not level and flush with each other:

Here is a good video for the Do It Yourselfer, or field tech on how to adjust a reclining sofa in order to make it look better. Reclining sofas are like 2 “one armed” recliners joined together with a static armless chair in the middle. They will tend to get out of alignment over time, but this video shows how to remedy common issues.