Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 13, 2013

Local woodworkers display furniture for dealers

By DL PERRIN
CORRESPONDENT

HOWE — Quality furniture was on display this week during the 14th Annual Northern Indiana Woodcrafters Association EXPO at the Michiana Event Center.

Every year, since 1999, the members organization of wood crafters have brought their products together for a dealer trade show unequaled in the United States. They have nearly 200 active members from four northern Indiana counties: LaGrange, Kosciusko, Noble and Steuben.

“This is not an Amish furniture show,” said one of the founding members, Daniel Lehman. “First of all we do not agree with marketing our products through our religion.”

He explained that even though all of the members are Amish, all the members are also wood craftsmen or produce an affiliated product, that is where the similarity ends. Lehman said they never use their religion as a marketing tool.

“You can say, in all honesty, that we are the largest 100 percent, USA handcrafted furniture maker’s organization.”

A prominent feature in many of the floor displays was computer/office built-ins and entertainment centers. Since the majority of the designs are custom order, the builders go with the popular flow to accommodate their wholesale buyer’s needs. But the number one featured product is the bedroom suite. Many of the craftsmen say it is because the women do the furniture shopping and when it comes to buying new furniture and investing top dollar they start with a custom bedroom.

Another point, emphasized by the exhibitors, was the fact that all of the pieces they make are hands-on, handmade and not produced on an assembly line.

“I am first generation to get into the furniture business,” said Ervin Miller a NIWA board member. “I am self-taught. I wouldn’t show some of the first things I made back then. Let’s just say I am better now and very happy the business is growing. “After all, you learn as you make all of those early mistakes. Trial and error is the best teacher.”

Julie Whitehead and her co-worker Sarah Bontrager from Middlebury and Topeka were first-time visitors and guests of a manufacturer. They were impressed with the custom furniture on display. “I had no idea there was so much variety in the furniture produced by the Amish in this area,” Whitehead said. “The variety and the creative design features are amazing.”

Bontrager said, “Of course, you recognize a certain style of furniture, but these designers have given it their own spin and the results are just breathtaking.”

Both women agreed that this furniture is not for the average home shopper.

 “This is heirloom quality furniture,” Bontrager said. “You invest in this kind of custom design furniture and you are buying something you expect your great-grandchildren to inherit.”

For information about the group go online to www.indianawoodcrafter.com