Eldred Wheeler was founded in 1978 with the vision of handcrafting country high-style furniture with the same quality and pride as pieces made by 18th century American cabinetmakers.
To achieve this vision, the founders committed to following five core principles:
Over the years, changes in ownership added some new perspectives, but thankfully the five core principles above remained intact.
Ironically, Eldred Wheeler has come full circle, and the company is beginning a “new chapter” with its original team. We are very excited about the opportunity to guide Eldred Wheeler once more and continue making this wonderful furniture.
Foremost of our priorities is making sure the company maintains its commitment to its original vision and its five core principles. Therefore, over the next several months we will be highlighting each of our core principles on our website. We hope this will provide a more detailed understanding of Eldred Wheeler’s ongoing dedication to its vision as well as its commitment to new and former customers.
Celebrate the independent spirit, vitality, and colonial work ethic represented in 18th century American country high-style furniture forms
Eighteenth century cabinetmakers worked in a vastly different environment from furniture manufactures today. Cabinetmaking was viewed as a prestigious trade and colonial cabinetmakers took great pride in their work. Today, we might view colonial cabinetmakers more as artisans making “furniture sculptures” rather than woodworkers or carpenters. They typically knew their customers and gave careful consideration to every aspect of crafting a piece. While the overall design theme was dictated by current fashion, the design specifics and execution of each piece was left to the cabinetmaker. This is where artistry, craftsmanship, and functionality merged to create some true masterpieces of American art. Some pieces were the culmination of a lifetime of design refinement, such as the sophisticated block-and-shell secretaries made by the Goddards and Townsends of Newport, Rhode Island. While other less formal pieces seem more spontaneous – almost whimsical, for example the elaborate country-high style highboys made by the Dunlaps in New Hampshire or the innovative chest-on-chests created by Samuel Loomis in Colchester, Connecticut.
Eldred Wheeler is dedicated to carrying on the independent spirit, vitality, and work ethic of colonial cabinetmakers. Following in their footsteps in today’s mass-production oriented world is not always easy. It requires a strong commitment to create pieces of lasting value. In some cases this is accomplished by crafting a reproduction of an especially desirable antique, while in other cases it involves transposing one’s self back in time and accurately designing a piece that could have been created not only at that time but also in a particular area. When non-traditional items are needed, such as a coffee table or entertainment center, we might use bit a more design latitude. However, irrespective of the form, we remain committed to crafting pieces that would make our colonial predecessors proud. Each Eldred Wheeler pieces incorporates traditional mortise & tendon and dovetail construction, wide boards of American hardwoods, hand worked hardware, and a unique finish that achieves the patina of a well maintained antique.
Eldred Wheeler was largely created as a result of the founders’ love of 18th century American furniture and their admiration and respect for the colonial cabinetmakers who crafted them. That’s why from the start, they instilled in their company a culture based on the same work ethic exhibited by these early artisans. This is reflected in the company’s core principles , which emphasize quality, value, and customer service.
Each Eldred Wheeler craftsman takes tremendous pride in the pieces they help create. Their ultimate goal is for each Eldred Wheeler piece to be enjoyed today as well as cherished by future generations. In this way, they not only celebrate our American heritage but more importantly help carry it forward.
Maintain the highest standards in authentic designs, materials, workmanship, and finished products
Antique American furniture has definitely withstood the test of time. Not only are the designs still admired but most pieces were so well made that they look as good and are as serviceable today as when they were made over 200 years ago. They possess “lasting quality”.
This is very different from mass-produced, modern day products. Since most modern furniture manufacturers view furniture as a household commodity, they design around cost, ease of manufacture, and popular generic styles (e.g., colonial, traditional, contemporary, etc.). Modern construction methods, such as dowelled joinery or the use of numerous glued up boards, do not take into account the dynamic nature of wood. Because wood continually expands and contracts, they are ultimately doomed to fail. Using plywood rather than solid wood largely eliminates the problem, but it is a serious compromise in quality. The same can be said about using superficial, semi-opaque stains and finishes to help camouflage multi-board glue-ups or poor quality base materials.
Eldred Wheeler, on the other hand, crafts its furniture with the same care and in the same manner as 18th century cabinetmakers – for example:
As was the case in larger 18th century cabinet shops, each of our pieces is the result of a team effort. Therefore, quality control has never been a problem, since each craftsman has considerable pride invested in his or her contribution to the finished product.
Ensure each piece is fairly priced and has lasting value so it can be enjoyed by current as well as future generations
One of the most difficult tasks facing the founders of Eldred Wheeler was how to price their handcrafted product. Obviously, handcrafted pieces made in limited quantities are more costly to make than mass-produced items made by the hundreds or thousands. The easy solution would have been to simply mark-up the manufacturing cost to include an acceptable profit and in this way arrive at retail price. Unfortunately, that approach excluded any input from the customer as to whether the piece represented a good value. Individuals always have options when looking at home furnishings. For example they could purchase an antique if the price of the handcrafted piece is roughly the same as the antique (some antique forms, like a simple blanket chest, are often more expensive to make than the price of the antique) or they could purchase a mass-produced coffee table since it is purely practical and not an authentic 18th century form anyway.
From the start, Eldred Wheeler wanted to offer its pieces at a fair price, so that they could be purchased by not only individuals augmenting their antique furnishing but also young couples who were just starting to furnish their homes. Like buying anything with lasting value, it is often a bit more expensive in the beginning but a much better value in the long run. This is especially true with home furnishings where people often outgrow their initial selection of mass-produced pieces as their income and tastes mature.
Eldred Wheeler’s founders decided to offer most of their pieces at prices only modestly higher than mass-produced versions. That way they figured they had the potential to help educate their customers on the wisdom of acquiring items of lasting value – things they would not outgrow, but would rather cherish and pass on to their children or grandchildren.
The challenge then is to work pricing from the top-down and not the bottom-up. Therefore, in considering a new offering we first determine what we think is a fair value. This is done by looking at the prices of other similar options, such as antiques, competing handcrafted products, and mass-produced items. This is weighed against what we feel people think they should be spending for such a piece. After arriving at a target price, we then determine how best to handcraft the piece so that it can be sold at the desired price. Sometimes we can’t make everything work out and the project is shelved, but often than not we figure a way to achieve the value we are seeking and the product finds its way in to our catalog and stores.
Eldred Wheeler constantly strives to handcraft the finest 18th century country high-style furniture available in America today and, over the years we have developed a loyal following of dedicated customers. We are grateful that we have achieved our goals of creating pieces of not only lasting quality but also lasting value. This fact has been reinforced time after time at several New England auction galleries, where often Eldred Wheeler labeled furniture sells for more than it was originally purchased.
Treat customers like family and spend time educating them on 18th century cabinetmaking
Eldred Wheeler was founded by individuals who were truly passionate about 18th century American furniture. They were not only collectors but also sincerely fascinated with the era of its manufacture. Being of modest means their collecting aspirations were not for priceless museum-level formal pieces but rather for more affordable country forms. Most often these country pieces were crafted from native woods like cherry, maple, or birch. Early in the company’s life new products were often selected based on the founders’ personal desires. Tiger maple was the king of New England country high-style furniture and hence antique pieces in this wood were very expensive. Therefore it should be no surprise that many of their first product offerings were in this highly desirable wood (the prototypes typically finding their way into the founders’ homes).
As the company grew, it began to develop its own internal culture which emphasized craftsmanship, quality, and value. Increasingly company employees became intrigued with 18th century America and the way colonial cabinetmakers not only viewed their craft but also their customers. The concept of creating furniture with lasting value carries a significant burden — the piece must not only satisfy its new owner, but also be admired and desired by future generations. Design, craftsmanship, and quality are all critical to achieving this goal.
It is not surprising that once someone becomes committed to a philosophy they tend to want to share it with others and so it is within the Eldred Wheeler family. Employees have become zealots about their work and the furniture they create. They are on a constant mission to educate their customers about what constitutes quality and value when it comes to furniture. As a result, there has developed a significant following of loyal Eldred Wheeler customers. Once one appreciates the lasting value of fine handcrafted furniture, it is hard to seriously consider purchasing mass-produced pieces, which in today’s world can almost be thought of as disposable.
We consider each customer an extension of the Eldred Wheeler family and want them to be thrilled with each item they purchase. Our strong warranty reinforces our commitment to both our customers and our product. And our hope is that every purchaser of Eldred Wheeler will get a lifetime of enjoyment from our pieces as well as set the stage for passing them along to the next generation.
Create a respectful, nurturing environment for employees so they enjoy their work and take pride in their collective accomplishments
Eldred Wheeler is family of individuals bound by a strong commitment to handcraft the finest American 18th century furniture and offer it to their customers at a good value. In order to fulfill this commitment, it requires contribution from people with a wide variety of skills.
At the core of the company are the craftsmen who actually made the furniture. At Eldred Wheeler our craftsmen tend to specialize in certain areas of cabinetmaking. For example in our rough mill, it requires years of experience and an artistic eye to select and match the wide boards used in the construction of our pieces. On the other hand, artisans in our finish department have to continually monitor the tone and depth of color as they apply our unique finishes.
Once a piece leaves the workshop it is the responsibility of our store employees to not only understand our customer’s needs but also to educate them on the fine points of Eldred Wheeler furniture. Of course there are also the unsung heroes who make sure the company functions on a daily basis. Their responsibilities range from shipping to administration to purchasing.
In the end, the creation and delivery of each of our pieces is a team effort. Every member of the Eldred Wheeler family contributes in their own way to help make each customer’s Eldred Wheeler experience and enjoyable one.
Our commitment to our customers is unwavering, but so is our commitment to our employees. An enjoyable and satisfying work environment is a key reason our employees can consistently maintain the level of craftsmanship and value our products exhibit. Every employee is given the chance to contribute to their potential, especially as their skills and experience develop. This creates a realization on the part of each employee that their role in creating and delivering our furniture is not only needed but also highly valued. That is likely one reason that several of our employees have been with the company for the majority of their working careers.
Our craftsmen work long hours and much of what they do is labor intensive. Therefore, it is important to take a break occasionally to reflect on the week’s accomplishments or discuss the company’s future plans. Routinely “all hands” meeting are held to solicit input on how we can service our customers better or improve our operations. Of course some other events are less structured. For example, many summer Fridays are “pizza days”, when the whole company breaks early, and before the weekend enjoys some casual conversation, a bit of soda and pizza, a maybe throw of two of the frizby around the parking lot.
Camaraderie is important at Eldred Wheeler. It is what motivates every member of the team to deliver their best in everything they do. It is what makes them look forward to coming to work each day. It’s what provides them strong individual satisfaction and pride when a customer writes saying how much they love a piece that was just delivered. It is a sense of belonging and accomplishment.
Our employees are our greatest asset and only through creating a respectful, nurturing environment can they enjoy their work and take pride in their collective accomplishments
To achieve this vision, the founders committed to following five core principles:
Eldred Wheeler in the News & On the Web
Sell The Store, Then Buy it Back – Wall Street Journal
Scituate Resident has Faith in Furniture Manufacturing Business – Patriot Ledger
First Period Home Gets Second Life – Boston Globe Magazine
When Autumn Leaves Start to Fall – Simply Country Books
History & Craftsmanship