With humble beginnings as a small and unassuming factory of only 50 workers to an upstanding nationally recognized business of furniture manufacturing and design, it is a classic American story of success. Collectors today continue to find great value in the traditional combined with industrial elements that comprise the tastefully classic and refined, yet neat and simple quality of Drexel furniture.
Drexel refers to the style of fine furniture created by Drexel Furniture Inc, based in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Their products are made from native oak, are skillfully handcrafted, and reflect the simplicity of beauty combined with old world quality in skillmanship of classic American made products. To this day Drexel furniture has an unshakeable reputation for timelessness, and unpretentious elegance of design, and as a result their products are sold only by the finest design studios and furniture stores in the nation.
On November 10, 1903, in Drexel, North Carolina, Samuel Huffman and five other men founded the Drexel Furniture Company with an investment of $14,000. At the advent of this business, the town of Drexel was home to only a railroad siding built to accommodate a flour mill and saw mill. Huffman and his fellow Morganton businessmen used their investment to build a factory equipped with furniture making machinery. Their first product was a bedroom set consisting of a bed, bureau, and washstand suite that they sold for $14.50. From this point onward, the company would become well known for their classic design elements that earned a high regard of style and quality across the whole of America.
That is not to say that there were not difficulties in the process of creating and establishing a design empire. In 1906, the factory burnt down, however was quickly replaced thanks to a generous insurance payout. Whereas other furniture companies of the time were able to start out with the promise of plentiful labor, Burke County, in which Drexel is located, did not have any decent roads and was still comprised about one third untouched forest; and thus the company started out with a meager 50 workers.
Much of their business practices were established through a period of trial and error. They initially entrusted most of their sales to outside agents who designed, priced, and sold the products. They often sold their furniture to these agents in parts so they could be assembled upon arrival and thus saved transportation money on the freights. These low cost practices enabled the company to undersell their northern competition, and by 1918 the company had grown to include the Blue Ridge Furniture Co., and the factory had expanded by 20,000 square feet.
"By the 1950s, the company had grown from a small factory in a little known rural town, to one of the world’s leading furniture manufacturers of modern and traditional design."
In 1935, Sam Huffman, the last of the principal founders, died and his son Robert O. Huffman inherited the position of company President. He made a number of changes to operations, such as manufacturing products in the medium-priced range instead of the low-priced range, as well as investing more into advertising. He also made the company one of the first of its kind to commit full time resources to style and design by employing devoted staff furniture designers. They created a bedroom and dining room set called Touraine that was inspired by Louis XV in response to the demand for reproductions of famous English cabinetmakers and French designs. The set was immediately a great success that continued for several decades, and even today is sought after by collectors as one of the company’s key accomplishments.
By the 1950s, the company had grown from a small factory in a little known rural town, to one of the world’s leading furniture manufacturers of modern and traditional design. Throughout the decade they would acquire multiple other firms, including Table Rock Furniture, Heritage Furniture Co., and Morganton Furniture Co. By 1957, the company employed 2,300 workers and their products were sold by over 2,500 stores across the nation.
Today, Drexel Heritage Furniture Industries, Inc is one of the world’s leading manufacturers in furniture and design. It is easy to see why so many are inspired by the company’s roots as an American success story of a business that was able to rise from the bottom to the top through placing value in quality and hard work. Their ability to know when to follow contemporary trends, when to remain steadfast in classic tradition, and when to join the two together in order to create a timeless yet modern product remains attractive to audiences across the world.