Most people understand that a product can only be as good as the material from which it is made. It follows that home furnishings made from artificial, low-grade materials such as particleboard, pressed wood or MDF can sustain neither craftsmanship nor long life. And for many years the furniture-buying public has been learning this lesson the hard way. And it remains true that much costly premium furniture is built little better than the inexpensive student furniture that we see discarded curbside on garbage night. Yes, the finish choices are more varied and the designs more “compatible with contemporary adult lifestyles”, but under their skins the chic and the disposable are brother and sister, often “born” in the same sprawling overseas factory to be assembled closer to market. And this would be fine and fair if the price was right. But it isn’t.
It was never so at Stickley, where only the best of Mother Nature will do: select high-grade lumber responsibly harvested from sustainable sources, then properly dried and milled, hand-fitted and hand-finished to timeless designs old and new. Real wood. Solid wood. Even on those rare occasions when a “veneer” is appropriate and correct – such as the gorgeous swirl and crotch mahogany door panels and drawer fronts on Stickley’s Georgian reproductions – it remains the real thing, re-sawn and book-matched to perfection. So too the glorious tiger-stripe maple drawer facings on the solid black cherry Harvey Ellis bedroom pieces (though at 2mm in thickness they are more of a thin plank than a thick veneer); just another example of Stickley’s uncompromising belief in proven materials and traditional cabinetry. Thick or thin it’s solid wood.
Yet neither Stickley nor the consumer can afford complacency. The new millennium has seen increasingly vast quantities of dubious hard and soft woods flooding wholesale timber markets (particularly from rain forests in Indonesia and South America). Offshore bulk manufacturers have been able thereby to busily mass market “real solid-wood furniture” to the affluent West as well as to the emerging East. Great emphasis is put on short-lived trends, designer endorsements, and “available NOW!”, though this often translates as out-of-fashion next year, hidden mark-up, and we assemble it straight from the shipping container. Much less is said about how things are made and from what. The wood itself may or may not be furniture-grade, but it is quickly cut for a quick profit, and sometimes illegally. Kiln-drying (let alone air-drying) is infrequent. Actual fabrication is frantic and inexact. Surface treatments hide more than enhance whatever natural beauty the particular species may possess. “Texturing” replaces fine finishing. Suspicious chemicals are the norm.
So, it can pay as much to know what something isn’t as to know what it is. Or, as a discriminating and thrifty Stickley enthusiast of many years likes to put it: “Would you eat three meals a day every day at a restaurant that loudly advertised ‘solid meat’ but refused to distinguish spring lamb from mutton, or Angus beef from horsemeat? And what if they charged good money for the mystery? No, neither would I.”