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posted: 9/28/2013 12:56 AM

Amish craftsmen excel in a variety of styles

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  • Amish Furniture showrooms are like catalogs where shoppers can see furniture sets and pieces that are made to order.

      Amish Furniture showrooms are like catalogs where shoppers can see furniture sets and pieces that are made to order.

  • This dining room set is made in the Shaker style.

      This dining room set is made in the Shaker style.

  • All of Amish Furnitures pieces are custom made, primarily in Ohio.

      All of Amish Furnitures pieces are custom made, primarily in Ohio.
    Photos courtesy of Amish Furniture

By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent

Rid yourself of any preconceived notions you may have about furniture that is made by the Amish.

One thing is clear when you walk into any of Amish Furniture's four Illinois locations. The furniture found in its showrooms is not all made in the colonial style that you probably associate with the Amish people.

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Instead, more than 70 Amish craftsmen, primarily in Ohio, make custom, solid-wood furniture using their traditional methods but in styles such as Mission, Shaker, contemporary, Arts and Crafts and even Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style, said Brian Zerm, manager of the Chicago area Amish Furniture locations in Batavia, Crystal Lake, Naperville and Chicago.

"Our owner designs all of the furniture and sends the specifications to our Amish craftsmen, who then follow the designs and construct the furniture in their own shops, using diesel generators and pneumatic tools because they can't have electricity," Zerm said.

Most of them work right on their farms, having lunch each day in their own homes, he added. And the shops range from one-man operations to craftsmen who employ a number of helpers to construct tables, end tables, chairs and much more. Most tend to specialize in one type of furniture piece, Zerm said.

Once the piece is constructed, it is then sent to Amish Furniture's finishing factory in Holmes County, Ohio, where other Amish craftsmen use company-owned air machines and spray booths to apply consistent, high-quality finishes.

"That is what separates us from other Amish furniture companies. We are able to carefully control our stain colors by having a special finishing factory. This way, our craftsmen can concentrate on what they do best -- constructing the furniture. They don't have to worry about staining and finishing it, too," Zerm said.

Amish Furniture also carries upholstered furniture that is made in North Carolina and Virginia by such companies as Klaussner Home Furnishings and Rowe Furniture.

"Our showrooms are our catalogs," he said. "Everything our customers purchase is custom made. They can choose from cherry, oak, maple, walnut, rustic cherry and quarter-sawn oak. Dimensions can also be changed to meet their individual needs."

Within 12 weeks, most pieces are delivered, he said.

"Our niche is building custom, solid wood furniture and we do it better than anyone. That is why we have been able to stay in business, even during the recent recession. We have the ability to give people exactly what they want, in the size that they want, and that is unique," Zerm said.

"The fact that solid wood furniture will last a lifetime is another plus," Zerm said. "If it is damaged, we can repair it, even if we have to cut a board out to do it."

Cherry and brown maple are especially popular woods with today's buyers in both the city and the suburbs, as is the reclaimed barn wood look, he said. And when it comes to upholstered furniture, bolder fabrics are "in" which allow a chair or couch to be the "star of the show" in any room, not blend in, Zerm said.

"Each new generation wants something different than their parents had, so we see furniture styles running in 10- to 12-year cycles, generally. After about 12 years of a style being popular, you have the next generation pushing the envelope again," he said.

Amish Furniture has been in business since 1984, first sharing space with Heirloom Furniture in Crystal Lake and then striking out alone in 1998. A second store opened in St. Charles in 2001 but that store has since moved to Batavia. Since then they have expanded to Naperville, Chicago and to two stores in Colorado.

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