As Americans prepare to mark the 235th anniversary of the nation's birth next week, there will be dozens of ways they can celebrate our independence. Between the barbecues and fireworks displays, they can join in a tradition that's as old as America itself: fixing up the homestead.
When you purchase a piece of American-made furniture, you are purchasing a piece of history -- regardless of whether the piece is traditional, transitional, contemporary or modern in style.
"In purchasing American-made furniture, you are supporting an industry that began with the founding of our country," said Steve Kincaid, president of North Carolina-based Kincaid Furniture.
"As our nation grew, our furnishings were made by small workshops, which evolved into thriving businesses. The U.S. furniture industry has provided for millions of families over the generations and most are located in small rural towns where the impact of the business on the community and employees is desperately needed," he said.
"In our case, that's the history of how we were founded," said Marta Eriquez, director of interior design for Ethan Allen. "Made in America, solid-wood construction is one of our hallmarks."
Since 1932, Ethan Allen has been making furniture by hand at its Vermont facility. In fact, some of its current craftsmen are third-generation employees of the company, Eriquez said.
"They are very key to our quality. Hand assembly, dovetailed drawers, mortise and tenon joinery ... we haven't changed that in all these years. We maintain that high-quality level and do build one piece at a time."
Although the industry has shrunk in recent years, it still provides jobs for thousands of people across the United States, said Kincaid. "These manufacturing jobs also support hundreds of service and supplier related jobs."
Additionally, by manufacturing in the U.S., manufacturers are required to follow regulations that help protect the environment.
"Today's furniture manufacturers must comply with some of the world's most stringent environmental laws and guidelines. From air quality, raw material sourcing, water usage, etc., we all must meet the EPA rules," he said. "Producing furniture in the U.S. is much better for the world's environment than most foreign countries, which do not have similar rules as the U.S. Additionally, all imported furniture must be shipped to the U.S. on container ships; then trucks or trains are used to move about the country. This enlarges the carbon footprint for imports, versus just shipping the furniture from a U.S. manufacturer to the retail store."
Beyond the boost to the nation's economy and ecology, buying American-made furniture allows for greater customization.
"Most imported furniture tends to be large quantities with very little customization options," Kincaid said.
"I do think we have more control doing the work in America," said Eriquez. "Upholstery is another whole huge area where we can customize. From trims and nailhead to leg options and so many different cushion qualities, I don't think you can find that if you are getting your upholstery from overseas. Your choices would be limited."
Ethan Allen spends a great deal of time training its staff designers to help customers and design professionals with their customization options.
"You really can change the look of any piece with a finish," she said. "It can be very dramatic, so having those options gives a designer a great variety of looks for their clients.
"Today, we have so many custom options that to make furniture overseas would be out of the question. It is important to our clients to be able to have things custom made for them."
Not only are the choices more plentiful when working directly with an American manufacturer, the time it takes to get the completed piece would be significantly shorter.
"One of the strengths of a U.S. manufacturer is their ability to offer custom fabrics, finishes and designs in a timely manner," Kincaid said. "With lead times from Asia that are counted in months, the domestic manufacturer can provide exactly what the consumer wants in a matter of weeks."
"Logistically, you don't have to wait for a whole container (to be shipped from Asia). It can be one piece at a time. If you want one dining chair in a particular finish, it's not as if you need to buy eight chairs."