Woodworker at Colonial Homestead
Travel | Amish Country

3 Amish Country Furniture-Makers

From high-end custom pieces to chairs crafted with hand tools — these three furniture-makers can help you bring one-of-a-kind creations into your home.

The Colonial Homestead

Visiting the Colonial Homestead in Millersburg is like taking a step back in time. Part old-fashioned general store and part active maker space, the shop is overflowing with vintage hand tools, antique furniture and wooden creations in progress.

Owner Dan E. Raber builds his custom furniture entirely by hand without the use of electric power tools. That makes him unique among Holmes County furniture-makers.

“Most visitors to the area assume the Amish are all using hand tools,” says Raber.

Though he has hand-built everything from tables and dressers to traditional flintlock rifles and tiny timber-frame houses, his specialty is Windsor chairs. He currently has more than 400 chairs on order. It takes him roughly three and a half hours to assemble and finish a chair from its components — just 30 minutes more than it would take using all power tools.

Half of that time is devoted to paint finishing work. Raber is committed to using ethical products and processes, which is why he hand paints each chair with nontoxic milk paint.

“It’s been around for about 400 years,” Raber explains. “It’s simply three basic ingredients: milk, lime and natural pigments.”

Not only does the Colonial Homestead create handmade furniture, it will also teach you how to make it. Visitors can come for workshops on tool sharpening, basic hand skills, or traditional paints and finishes. Or they can buy a Windsor chair kit for $250 or bench kit for $500 and assemble it on-site with help from the staff.

“People are starting to see that doing things for yourself is far more satisfying and, oftentimes, more economical than just buying,” he says.

It’s all part of Raber’s mission to educate his customers to have the skills and knowledge to make responsible choices. “Once you’ve tried the handmade option, once you’ve tried doing it yourself,” he says, “you will never again be satisfied with the status quo.” 6515 St. Rte. 241, Millersburg 44654, 330/600-9445

Dining table and chairs (photo courtesy of Homestead Furniture)
Homestead Furniture

A three-story showroom featuring mid-century dining tables and ultra-modern bedroom sets? It’s not exactly what you’d expect from a furniture store in Amish Country. But Homestead Furniture prides itself on offering trend-forward styles for every room in the house.

“We do a lot of entire-home packages,” says Homestead Furniture design consultant LaVern Hershberger. 

“We have the ability to achieve any style, look and feel, and create the function that people want, so it reflects not only their needs but also the personality throughout their home.”

Because most pieces are built on-site at the store’s 45,000-square-foot factory, Homestead Furniture can customize almost anything. That means you can widen your sideboard table and add extra doors or create a new set of bookcases to match it. Don’t like the color? Select from more than 3,000 different wood finishes.

Those unlimited choices don’t need to be overwhelming, though. Homestead Furniture has design consultants on staff to help customers with their decorating and furnishing decisions.

“We are trained in design and have the expertise to guide the client through,” says Hershberger. “We ask a lot of questions.”

With a team of in-house furniture designers, the store stays on the cutting edge of trend, design and color. So, what’s popular right now? Timeless, casual styles with softer finishes and simple, clean lines.

“I think it will stay casual for quite some time,” says Hershberger. “People are using their homes more, so they want to be able to use their furniture. That’s why our durable finishes are so important.”

Hershberger believes that offering high-end, up-to-date furniture styles is what sets the store apart from other furniture-makers in Holmes County.

“We have high-quality goods in a variety of styles and the ability to customize, so people aren’t compromising,” he says. “That has really made an impact.” 8233 St. Rte. 241, Mount Hope 44660, 866/674-4902, homesteadfurnitureonline.com

The Oak Barrel Company interior (photo by Eric Wagner)
The Oak Barrel Co.

Half the fun of visiting The Oak Barrel Co. is exploring the whimsical inventory. You’ll find pieces ranging from from stools to sinks — all made from repurposed wine and bourbon barrels.

Owner Chris Deffenbaugh’s mantra is reclaim, reuse and re-create. He designs rustic furniture and home decor items from oak barrels and other found objects and nothing goes to waste. An old scale becomes a cocktail bar. A discarded piano transforms into a coffee table.

“We [focus] on re-creating from objects that had a useful life at one time,” explains Deffenbaugh.

One of his most eye-catching pieces is a huge oak barrel that opens to reveal a wine cabinet with a mirror and light inside. It also smells just like the wine that was stored in the barrel. “I love a double interest,” adds Deffenbaugh. “Most of the stuff that we make has a functional use but also a unique, nostalgic feel to it.”

Deffenbaugh is entirely self-taught. He started learning more than 20 years ago by crafting a single wine barrel into a bar cabinet. That initial project took him six months. He had so much fun, he drove to a distillery in Kentucky and bought 90 bourbon barrels. From there, he created more designs and sold them at art fairs and wine shops.

“Now, looking back, it probably was a leap of faith,” says Deffenbaugh. “I wanted it so bad.”

All The Oak Barrel Co. items are made in Deffenbaugh’s workshop — a retro-fitted barn in nearby Wooster. He based his storefront in Holmes County because of the great location. Every year, four and a half million visitors come through the town of Berlin. His shop attracts wine and alcohol enthusiasts, guests who love rustic decor, and curious tourists.

Even as his business grows, Deffenbaugh still finds meaning in his original mission of sustainable design. “You’re here for a short period of time,” he says, “so let’s make a difference.” 4839 E. Miller Ave., Berlin 44610, 330/466-0636, theoakbarrelcompany.com  

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