Winston-Salem Journal

"Winston-Salem Natives Give Whiskey, Scotch Barrels Stylish New Life" 

CHARLOTTE - Opening a hope chest or “Celebration" Box made by Heritage Handcrafted comes with a sensory experience perhaps unlike with any other with wooden furniture.  

With the wood coming from freshly emptied whiskey and scotch barrels, there’s a distinctly bittersweet smell that, sniffed long enough, might make people feel like they’ve spent a long night at a local pub.

That enticing aroma, along with cleverly shaped barrel slats, gives Heritage Handcrafted’s furnishings a rustic appearance that fits right at home in a man cave, back porch or mountain retreat.

The company, operated by entrepreneurs James Broyhill II and Robert Grajewski, is trying its twist with two trends – environmentally friendly home furnishings and domestically made furnishings – that have grown in popularity at recent High Point Markets.

The Made in USA sentiment has included for several markets a separate pavilion that keeps expanding with exhibitors and interest. After beginning with 30 exhibitors, the pavilion has 69 for this week’s show. Heritage is not showing in the pavilion.
Although the company’s furniture primarily is available online at www.heritage-handcrafted.com, they are aiming to expand the retail availability by showing at the market. The spring trade show, which is closed to the public, began Saturday and runs through Thursday.

Broyhill and Grajewski, 29, are lifelong buddies who were born on the same day. Broyhill graduated from Reynolds High School and Grajewski attended Forsyth Country Day before graduating from a Connecticut prep school.

They have set up production shops in Winston-Salem and in Charlotte, where they now live.

Broyhill, a fourth-generation member of the renowned Broyhill Furniture family, came about his company in a way similar to the way his great-grandfather, James Edgar Broyhill, did in 1926.

Both were tooling around in their workshop when inspiration struck.

For James Broyhill, his vision came in 2007 as he admired the shape of an old Jack Daniel’s barrel. Curious to see how the wood staves fit together, Broyhill hammered off the galvanized iron hoops from around the belly of that barrel.

“The inspiration behind the first whiskey barrel creation developed out of a personal challenge to create something aesthetically pleasing from something of true character,” Broyhill said.

“This was a one-time weekend project that I intended to display in the house and show off to friends and family. I had no idea what would come of it.”

Broyhill received enough praise and requests for making a similar piece that he branched out to an Adirondack chair with an ottoman (which requires a whole barrel to make), a celebration box – some of which fittingly carve out space for a whiskey bottle and shot glasses – a coffee table, sink and two versions of a chandelier.

Broyhill said whiskey barrels traditionally are constructed of American white oak.

“The interiors are charred to create the distinct, rich taste of the liquid aged within its staves,” he said. “The aged wood is sturdy and strong.” Further experimentation led Broyhill to introduce Cabernet Sauvignon barrels for their distinct coloring and stain.

By that point, Broyhill figured he was onto something. He also knew his expertise was in design and crafting, and not business, so he called Grajewski about his idea. Grajewski, with a MBA from Wharton business school, said he picked up quickly on the furniture’s appeal.

“We had talked about going into business together when we were growing up, so here was our opportunity,” Grajewski said.
After securing access to barrels from whiskey manufacturers in Kentucky and Tennessee, the businessmen started Heritage in January.

There’s been enough demand for the customized products so far that they’ve hired four furniture craftsmen so they can keep their delivery pledge of a four- to five-week turnaround.

Part of their goal at the High Point Market is determining if there is enough demand to begin distributing nationally later this year. If that proves to be the case, they plan to hire more craftspeople to handle additional production.

“We’re extremely excited to be able to show that made in USA and made in North Carolina furniture still has great appeal,” Broyhill said.

The “green” theme at the market has evolved from a trend to a mainstay in the past eight years.
It’s also the color of a competition between consumers’ heartstrings and purse strings since domestically made, environmentally furniture tends to carry a price premium.

For example, Heritage Handcrafted’s celebration box sells for $400, depend on size and amount of customization. The Adirondack Chairs goes for $750, while the chandeliers sell for $1,200 to $2,500.

Spurring interest are such wide-ranging issues as global warming, lead paint in some Chinese imports, sustaining the rain forests, reclaiming and giving second life to wood pieces and a desire to keep them out of land fields.  There’s also the appeal of the furnishings standing out from the sameness of the lower-cost Chinese imports.

Groovystuff of Dallas, Texas, for example, has been displaying furniture made from reclaimed teakwood and wagon wheels since 2007. Others have made dining room table tops from reclaimed tree trunks and roots.

Grajewski said that the customized nature of Heritage Handcrafted’s products will help the company keeps its inventory balanced with demand.

“We know it remains an uphill climb for made-in-America manufacturers, which is why we are trying to scale our growth appropriately,” Broyhill said.

“We believe we bring unique furniture to the marketplace at a competitive price. We’re not going to become an assembly-line furniture company.”

Broyhill said he knows there is a significant cache to furniture carrying the Broyhill name, but he wants Heritage Handcrafted pieces to stand on their own in terms of authenticity and ingenuity, and become their own heritage pieces over time.

“While I am proud to carry the Broyhill name, I am even more proud to carry on the tradition of creating unique furniture pieces out of wood,” Broyhill said.