|Texas twist of fate|
El Dorado Woodworks produces work solely for the residential end-user. Loper avoids working with designers and prefers to deal with the clients themselves. There are no commercial jobs, and production runs are non-existent. On rare occasions, such as when Loper builds a Morris chair, he will produce three to six chairs because they are so labor-intensive. That’s as close to a production run you will find in his shop.
“There was a time when most of the people we did work for were attorneys, but I’ve sold to astronauts, doctors and teachers. One of my oldest customers is a classical musician. But most everybody is a little bit ‘better off.’ If you break it down, on average, it is about a 50-50 split of out-of-state and local.”
Does he feel like he is in a competitive market?
“Nationally, I would say yes; locally, no. No one locally that I know is building Arts and Crafts furniture. There are people who try, but they can’t do what we do. I think with my art background I have a better sense of proportion and design and that helps. I can look at art furniture, and I can look for other furniture on the Web and know that we’re better just by proportions of a piece. I look back at stuff I made 14 years ago, and it was clunky and not designed well. It’s from living in the business and learning what’s right.”
Employee ups and downs
Until last fall, Loper had the perfect employee. He described him as the “heart and soul” of the shop who did the majority of the building. Unfortunately, after 10 years, he suddenly left El Dorado Woodworks and Loper had to start anew.
“It’s put me back to square one, where I’ve hired a new guy with minimal experience. He has some experience from cabinet-type work, but that doesn’t really translate to furniture work. Basically I’ve become the main producer in the shop again, and I’m teaching him what I taught my [former employee] 10 years ago when he started.”
Loper says he has changed his strategy when it applies to training a new employee. In the past, he would try to teach the new employee everything at once, but now realizes that was overwhelming. This time around, he has started the learning process by teaching the basics, such as milling lumber, assembling lumber and doing some joinery. Loper helps with the rest of the building, assists with assembly and takes care of the finishing.
“I’m a stickler about finishing. Once again, not having any formal training, it was a long, hard road trying to figure out what I was doing. What we spray mostly is shellac for the Arts and Crafts furniture on the oak. Shellac on just about anything else just doesn’t work well. It gives it a sense of antiquity, that’s that golden hue that you would see in older pieces. Plus, it is traditional for the period. That’s what they were using back then. On mahogany, cherry and walnut, we’ll use a lacquer.”
Loper doesn’t like to sub any of his work out; upholstery is the only job he lets someone else perform. Until recently he subbed out his veneer work, but now owns a veneer press so he can oversee that process in-house.