Amish Country Furniture-Makers
Visit four stores where locally handcrafted pieces draw customers looking for that special addition to their home.
Ahh, the rich smell of pine shavings and the delightful sight of planed oak curlicues. Ohio’s Amish country has an international reputation for its woodworking and furniture-making. There are one-man shops, giant production facilities, both Amish and Yankee craftsmen, and pieces that range from rustic log beds to live-edge tables. Here are four exceptional sellers to get you started.
The Colonial Homestead
Dan E. Raber, proprietor of The Colonial Homestead in Millersburg, holds a piece of cherry wood in his left hand. With his right, he confidently whacks the wood with a hatchet until the piece is shaped into a chair leg. No markings are on the wood for guidance.
“I can do a lot by eye,” says Raber, who opened this workshop in 2013 and who started building furniture at 12. “The one tool I could never do without is my broad hatchet. I use it for roughing.”
Considering the multitude of hand tools for working with wood, leather and metal that hang on the walls of his tool gallery, that’s quite a compliment to the hatchet. It’s also a testament to the skill of the Amish craftsman who once owned another woodworking shop, but one not 100-percent dedicated to traditional hand-tool methods.
The Colonial Homestead is different. Switching from a power-tool shop to a hand-tool shop means very little noise or air pollution — no screech of a band saw. Raber also scrapes with a plane and other tools, not sandpaper. Beautiful, paper-thin curls of wood fall from his vintage workbenches like flower petals.
“If you are really concerned with the environment, I am the choice,” says Raber, much of whose work is custom. “I can create an equal or better product with hand tools. I’m not saying other shops all have to use hand tools. But I want people to know what they are buying here is really special.”
The Colonial Homestead includes several nearby shops, including the Artisan Gallery, which sells Raber’s stock furniture as well as that of other fine woodworkers and artists. His antiques shop offers very high-end antiques made before 1900. A museum and a traditional trade school are planned for the near future. 144 W. Jackson St., Millersburg 44654, 330/600-9445
Miller’s Rustic Furniture
Customers make the pilgrimage over hilly, unpaved roads and past Amish homesteads, where purple martin birdhouses sit high on posts and laundry flaps on clotheslines even in the winter, to reach Miller’s Rustic Furniture.
Located in Saltillo, a short drive from Millersburg, owner Joe Miller’s large retail showroom is located next door to his woodworking plant, where most of the store’s inventory is made on-site by Amish employees.
The showroom is a cheery, well-lit space and serves as the perfect backdrop for the kind of furniture featured. It’s the sort of place that caters to customers who like sturdy, casual pieces and for those who don’t take life too seriously.
A rustic hall bench is combined with a coat tree. Outdoor porch swings and rockers remind us to take time to rest and enjoy life. A round, glass-topped Jack Daniels table would make a delightful addition to any whiskey lover’s at-home bar. End tables resemble tree stumps right out of the woods.
The business uses handpicked native wood for its log furniture, which will always have its devotees. But the store also sells a large variety of rustic furniture in hickory, pine, aspen, red cedar and Miller’s favorite, quartersawn oak. Live-edge slabs are also incorporated into furniture.
“Reclaimed barn wood furniture is getting to be really hot here,” says Miller, who owns the store with his wife, Miriam. “A lot of people think all we have is log furniture, but we have much more.” 6101 County Rd. 68, Millersburg 44654, 330/674-9709, millersrusticfurniture.com
Swiss Valley Furniture
Kendrick Mullet, president of Swiss Valley Furniture in Walnut Creek, shares an email from a regular customer who lives in one of Cleveland’s trendy downtown neighborhoods. She wants him to design another piece of contemporary custom furniture for her. It’s not exactly a request one expects to find in Amish country, but it illustrates the allure of the pieces crafted here.
“People bring in or send us pictures and drawings and say they want something like it,” explains Mullet, the grandson of Jake Mullet, who started a custom kitchen cabinet business in 1959.
Mullet’s father, Dennis, opened the furniture store in 2003. A major expansion in 2016 brought manufacturing and staining facilities, as well as an expanded retail showroom now totaling 24,000 square feet to the site.
Swiss Valley Furniture makes a wide variety of traditional, transitional and contemporary styles in hardwoods, including oak, quartersawn oak, maple, red oak, sap cherry, rustic cherry, brown maple, white maple, elm and hickory. Stock and custom furniture is available.
“We do it all here now. We eliminated the middleman,” says Mullet. “We buy from the sawmill, cut, assemble, sand by hand, spray, seal and finish with a top coat. We do one piece at a time until it’s done. It’s not an assembly line.”
Furniture here includes pieces for the living room, bedroom, home office, bar, entertainment areas and kitchens. The children’s furniture section spans beds, pint-size desks with heart-shaped seats and rockers that look like horses and motorcycles. Cute doll furniture, including a bunk bed, is also for sale.
“This area is called Swiss Valley and there are lots of Swiss descendants,” Mullet says proudly, explaining the origin of the company’s name. “My family members are sixth-generation descendants.” 2431 St. Rte. 39, Sugarcreek 44681, 330/403-4271, swissvalleyfurniture.com
Maybe it’s the location along a main route through Amish country. Maybe it’s the company’s reputation for service. Maybe it’s both, plus the fact that Homestead Furniture was one of the early stores in the region to offer a variety of styles. But the 27,000-square-foot showroom is always teeming with those who enjoy fine furniture.
Sales manager LaVern Hershberger is the son of Amish store founders Ernest and Barbara Hershberger, who opened Homestead Furniture in 1990. Hershberger says 90 percent of the company’s craftsmen are Amish and live within 10 miles of the retail store and its production facility across the street. (Tours of the 40,000-square-foot manufacturing plant are available at 1:30 p.m. daily.) Homestead also has a full-time interior designer and furniture designer on staff.
“We create hardwood, American-made products built by the Amish so good quality is ensured,” says Hershberger, adding that both power and hand tools are used in the process.
He adds that the company sets itself apart in many ways, one being the lab where stain colors are developed.
“We can create any color on any style,” he explains. “For example, millennials look for new and place more emphasis on color than wood species. We can give them what they want.”
Homestead also contracts with a third-generation blacksmith who creates one-of-a-kind bases for dining room tables and coffee tables, as well as unique headboards. In addition, the store has one of the best live-edge slab collections in Ohio. The slabs — slices of primarily northern hardwoods from the Midwest — are made into tables, desks, countertops and more.
“Our slabs are not pieces glued together,” explains Hershberger. “We search for very unique pieces and each one tells a different story.” 8233 St. Rte. 241, Mount Hope 44660, 866/674-4902, homesteadfurnitureonline.com