Home Design 2020: Custom furnishings bring beauty to the everyday
We’ve stared at our homes’ walls long enough. It’s time to take action and own something worth sheltering with.
What about a new coffee table made out of a free-spinning titanium jet engine turbine fan? Or an expertly detailed shuffleboard table handcrafted for your game room? Or a vanity for your half-bath that is as beautiful as it is functional?
It’s the world of custom furniture ready for use in our everyday lives.
And the choices are outrageous.
Calling all AvGeeks
Aero Furnishings grew out of Mike Malecka’s love for the jet engine. He saw the beauty in its muscularity even as he worked as a salesman for the airline industry.
Taking a leap in 2016, he bought a Pratt & Whitney JT8D from a Boeing 727, stripped it and started manufacturing polished stainless steel and glass coffee tables featuring jet plane parts.
Today, he has added car and boat components to his creative arsenal. His creations can incorporate anything from a Ferrari cam shaft to an engine from a Boeing commercial jet. A sleek gallery-quality coffee table might feature sparkling engine blades spinning under thick panes of glass, powered by specialized batteries, and set off by carbon black steel legs.
Each piece is finished according to the customer’s preference – in some pieces, the parts are polished to a spit shine, while others are left in near-vintage condition.
After four years in business, Malecka now owns an enormous warehouse filled with, primarily, airplane parts, all catalogued by serial number in a Dewey decimal-like system. From the Boeings to his newly sourced military aircraft, his company buys entire airplanes and repurposes their parts into surprisingly lightweight desks, conference tables, media centers, mirrors, stand-alone sculpture — really anything a customer can envision — for private buyers, businesses and galleries.
His one-of-a-kind pieces are built in Miami and shipped around the world, from Dubai to South America, where polished propellers, air frames, and even window sections find second careers as upcycled contemporary furniture.
In March of 2020, requests dwindled to a third, and for the next several months Malecka lived off back orders, completing contracted jobs while keeping employees on staff. A silver lining appeared when a fellow aviation enthusiast needed to unload a stockpile of planes. While the rest of us were sheltering in place, Malecka bought fighter jets and bombers from a broker at pennies on the dollar.
Bespoke for the rest of us
For Andrew Watson, CEO and founder of BUILT LLC in Tampa, customer choice leads innovation. Sitting in his warehouse is a hand-built shuffleboard table manufactured out of rich walnut and specifically sized for a game room. Its detailed exactness reflects the core of his business — made-to-order furniture catering to discerning homeowners and commercial clients. Still, he envisions a time when handcrafted furniture and fixtures are not just for the wealthy.
Calling his concept the “democratization of custom furniture,” BUILT recently invested in 14 high-level automated machines capable of producing furnishing within a shorter time frame and at a lower price point, with highly trained craftsmen finishing each piece.
The CNC (computer numerical control) machines exactly duplicate designs created by Watson and his staff. The automation allows a customer to select an item, say a dresser, and individualize it by the materials — wood, steel, upholstery, leather — and in the choice of accessories like drawers, copper pulls and terrazzo tops. In essence, BUILT provides the initial box while the customer chooses its functionality and final look.
This investment turns his woodshop into a small made-in-Florida manufacturing plant which can produce, within weeks, 100 chairs for a local restaurant as well as custom and semi-custom furniture for private and commercial use. All the while, the system protects his employees from dangerous blades and keeps them close to the design and craft of building furniture by hand.
The memory keeper
David Calvin Furniture Studio, a one-man shop in St. Petersburg, uses local lumber to craft pieces individually, building anything a client wants from bedroom sets to vanities.
Businesss slowed during the shutdown, so Calvin relied on existing orders to fill the days. Yet his niche — solid wood, dyed veneer and repurposing existing furniture — stayed true. His regulars know him for more than skilled woodwork — he is their memory keeper.
One customer had kept her mother’s dining room table for 50 years, moving it countless times, holding tightly to its backstory. The well-worn slab was more than a place to eat; it reflected the Greatest Generation’s sense of pride after struggling through the depression and WWII.
By working closely with Calvin, the daughter repurposed the sturdy table into a bar cart, a serving tray and wooden bracelets for her sisters and nieces — creating memories that transcended generations.
The time is right
At Live Edge Slabs LLC in Tarpon Springs, clients select wood slabs as they would granite, by thumbing through cut and kiln-dried pieces sourced from Costa Rica. Tables are then hand-finished and legs and seats welded by expert technicians.
The COVID stay-cation turned into a great business opportunity for Brad Kent, co-owner of Live Edge with his son, Brad Kent Jr. In the first months of the national shutdown, they saw business triple as families rushed to complete home offices and new work spaces.
By June, the other three companies began recovering as well, with orders increasing daily. The longer people sat home, Brad Sr. observed, the more they wanted to change it up.
The future looks good for these entrepreneurs, for whom constructing furniture is not just a hobby or business. It is a reflection of what they value: history, craftsmanship, independence, creativity.
Or as Watson put it, “We just want to build stuff.”
The above story is in the Fall 2020 issue of duPont Registry Tampa Bay. Hard copies are due to be showing up in fine mailboxes near you any day now, but meanwhile, enjoy the digital edition.