The Shuford family, who owns Century Furniture in Hickory, has been in western North Carolina for nearly 200 years, with a long tradition in manufacturing from yarn mills to fabric to furniture. Current president Alex Shuford III represents the third generation of the family operating the high-end company and has a clear vision of the roots of the fine quality furniture produced by his and other companies that thrive in the area. “For us,” Shuford says, “the area and its people are the very foundation of what we do. The access to materials such as Appalachian hardwoods is important, but the relationship with the western North Carolina craftsmen and women is vital. We derive our culture from the area’s hard-working, determined people who believe in treating others with Southern hospitality regardless of whether they are family or new customers.”
Producing everything from classic traditional designs to the edgiest of contemporary and stunning hand-forged steel pieces, these companies marry Old World craftsmanship with cutting-edge high-tech manufacturing to create freshly updated silhouettes, finishes and surprisingly customizable furniture. Indeed, nowhere else in the world but in this pocket of North Carolina can discerning retailers and designers find this level of quality combined with the luxury of personalization, and with such competitive delivery times and price points.
Shuford points out that technology provides these companies with the ability to offer almost infinite possibilities for customization. “Twenty years ago the U.S. furniture industry was based on large production runs driven in part by the high cost of machinery set-up times,” he says. “Essentially, the only way to justify the hours it took to set up a single machine to do a single operation was to enable long runs of a particular part, such as a leg or table top.”
Today, Shuford notes, “with computer-controlled equipment, set up times are lightning quick and that has opened up a world of affordable custom furniture. Of course, the level of craftsperson you need also increases because a modern custom factory is literally creating new products every day.”