Charlotte Magazine

"A Broyhill and His Barrels"

Three years before James Thomas Broyhill was born, his family sold its famous furniture business. It was 1980, and the Broyhills had owned Broyhill Furniture for more than a half-century. James’s great-grandfather started it, just one man in a small shop in Boomer, North Carolina. Business was good, and for decades, the Broyhill name grew. But the late-1970s brought signs of changing times for furniture. The next two decades would see the demise of the industry in North Carolina. People stopped buying from their neighbors and filled their home with pieces made in other places by people they’d never met.

The Broyhills sensed the shift coming and sold the business for $151 million. They never thought another family member would sell furniture again.

James, though, liked hammers. When he was a boy, his parents often shipped him to his maternal grandfather’s woodshed to bang on things and burn energy. He graduated from Appalachian State University with the famous name and a political science degree. Then he moved to Charlotte, bought a house in the southern part of the city near Interstate 485, and started working in real estate.

A few years ago, he came across an old Jack Daniel’s whiskey barrel and took it into the small shop in the back of his house. He hammered the steel rings off the barrel and let the staves fly open like a budding flower. He saw potential. He turned the white oak wood into a bench. Then he got another barrel and made chairs. More barrels, gift boxes.

In October of 2012, he turned the hobby into a business, Heritage Handcrafted. His best friend from childhood, Bobby Grajewski, took over the business side. A funny thing happened: People liked that Broyhill’s stuff was handmade and made here. So he kept tearing up barrels and turning oak into furniture. Business is good. And now, as James approaches his 30th birthday on October 26, a new generation of Broyhill woodworking has arrived, again started by just one man in a small shop.