“Being different from all the other furniture stores in the area” is his biggest challenge according to Galen Swartzentruber, manager at Walnut Creek Furniture since 1999. “You have to keep asking yourself why someone would want to come in here.” He answers that question by “staying unique.” Industrial style furniture, combining reclaimed wood and metal, is often seen in big city loft apartments; hand-crafted solid oak pieces with their smooth, perfect surfaces are more common in Holmes County. While the unblemished wood style is a favorite among local shoppers, the weather-beaten character of re-purposed shop carts and carpenters benches is gaining popularity. After a visit to Walnut Creek Furniture, in the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country, it’s easy to see why.
Galen gave me a tour of the showroom, pointing out pieces unlike anything I had seen before. Owned by Dale and Regina Miller, Walnut Creek Furniture carries traditional pieces made locally from start to finish, upholstered sofas and chairs custom ordered from out-of-state suppliers, and the amazing re-purposed items which make the store unlike so many others. Each of the one-of-a-kind industrial items is sure to be a conversation piece in the buyer’s home or office.
“We started the industrial line about two years ago,” Galen said, describing the repurposing process as finding an antique piece, cleaning it, and, if needed, adding new parts while retaining the features that lend interest and character. I see a carpenter’s tool bench with vice still intact, its wooden surface weathered to a deep brown patina, steeped with the untold history of the craftsman who worked on it in years past. It is now a beautiful buffet table certain to rival any future culinary feasts spread upon it for the attention of dinner guests.
Galen tells me that Dale is the one who brings in the finds from antique stores or auctions and transforms them into works of art. “Dale has a good eye for furniture in general and we got started on the industrial line after he went to a school auction and got some tables from their industrial arts room.” He laughs when he tells me, “Kids’ names were carved in some of them. Dale said, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do with them but they look really cool.’ So he had a base made for one and we put it in the store to see what happens. We sold out in a couple of months. The more character they have the faster they go.”
Galen says they will ship anywhere. The store sent a butcher block table to New York “and from there it went to Hong Kong.” Pointing to a large metal basket filled with various sizes of notched wheels, Galen tells me, “Gears like these we sent to California; we have a guy that builds robots. We sell online which is where he found us.” An old shop cart was sent to Australia although much of the industrial furniture finds its way to the larger cities closer to home. With an internet presence on youtube, Facebook, and their website, www.walnutcreekfurniture.com, they are easy to find.
A dining table made from African bubinga wood is an attention-getter and, close by, live edge slabs with original stumps for legs have been transformed into tables unlike any other. Traditional honey-colored oak pedestal leg tables surrounded by pressed-back chairs are scattered around the showroom as well. Galen points to one and tells me the simple, familiar dining set is still their best seller.
After the furniture is built it is sent to the finishing shop where final sealers are applied; located on the same premises as the furniture store, this is also where the industrial line is cleaned, refurbished, rebuilt, and finished. “The only thing that is manufactured on a large scale, elsewhere, is the upholstered line of furniture,” Galen told me.
Galen had worked as a restaurant manager for ten years before coming to Walnut Creek Furniture. While the furniture and food businesses differ in many respects, the managerial aspects have many similarities. Galen explains, “I enjoy working with people and meeting new people every day.” And he admits, “There’s a lot to learn about furniture, which I found out. There are so many skilled craftsmen. They are just like anyone else. There are good ones and mediocre ones and we try to find the best ones.” All the store’s hand-crafted furniture is made locally, most of it in small, family-owned businesses. “A couple of them are just one guy,” which means he is usually dealing with the business owner, one-on-one.
Galen believes service is a key to success. “I can’t say enough for the people that work here. The sales staff, probably all of them, have been here for twelve-plus years. They help decorate and help the customers with design decisions. The people that work for us have everything to do with how we serve the customers.” And that service continues after the sale is made. “We want our customers to be happy that their furniture came from us.”
When I asked Galen what his passion is he told me, “The main thing for me is that my kids grow up to have a strong faith and strong family values. I don’t have thoughts of being a millionaire but to keep growing; that’s what it’s all about.” His values have found their way into the business as well; glancing around the showroom I see the creativity, the attention to ongoing customer service, and the appreciation for products rich in history and lasting in quality, all keeping Walnut Creek Furniture growing in a very competitive market. This truly is a unique place from which to personalize your home.