High-end work on the high seas

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Steve Greenwood caters to a high-end and demanding clientele. As the owner of Yorkshire Woodwork in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Greenwood designs and builds furniture and cabinetry for the yachts of the rich and sometimes famous. But it’s a tough market to crack, requiring industry connections, the ability to meet some crazy deadlines, and the skills of seasoned woodworkers.

“There’s nothing square on a boat. Everything has to be custom built to fit,” says Greenwood. “For a regular house, you can build a square cabinet on a bench, then go to the house and fit it, presumably, if the walls are square. But there are all kinds of different challenges on boats where cabinetry looks like a square cabinet, but you open the door and there’s some part of the hull sticking through, or something else.”


Owner of: Yorkshire Woodwork Inc.
Location: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Years in business: 14
Shop size: 3,000-sq.-ft.
Employees: Four
Specialty: High-end custom yacht interiors
Business advice: “Take baby steps. Everything revolves around quality. The clientele we deal with will accept nothing less than the best, so to keep things in perspective, we know to not take on too much work.”

Time is of the essence in this line of work; jobs are often scheduled so that the yachts can set out on a voyage within hours after an installation is completed. Greenwood says the only time he and his crew might see the work again is in a magazine featuring the vessel, or the following season when the yacht is returned for additional work.

Everything is unique
The best part about custom work for boats is no two jobs are ever alike, according to Greenwood.

“Some of the products we often make are interior and exterior dining and cocktail tables, automated media cabinetry, china buffets with custom stowages, bathroom vanities, built-in bedroom furniture, cabinets and closets, as well as wheelhouse consoles and dashboards. Generally, anything on a vessel that is made of wood.”

While it’s not unusual for yacht owners to supply plans from their professional designers, more often than not Greenwood is called upon to create pieces that blend seamlessly with existing interior features.

“This can be quite a task when the vessel was built anywhere around the world or has been around for awhile. To match existing veneer or wood species can be challenging due to changes in environmental laws or even the extinction of the species.”

And here’s a consideration most land-locked woodworkers don’t have to account for: the rolling seas. “Everything has to be locked in place,” he says. “And that includes everything within a cabinet. If we’re building a cabinet for stowage of cutlery and fine china, we’ll have to make compartments and spray a quick dry fiber for cushioning. We can’t let that gold fork and knife, which can be worth up to $200 apiece, rub together.”

Apprentice to entrepreneur
Greenwood, 41, was born in the rural northern England village of Austwick, North Yorkshire. He was raised on stories about his grandfather, who worked on the wooden portions of the “Lancaster Bombers,” the British aircraft bombers used in World War II, and started a cabinetmaking apprenticeship with the City and Guilds of London Institute when he was 16.