Maine shop designs a new way forward

10_maine_01He calls it an overnight success story that took almost two decades. Doug Green, president of Green Design Furniture in Portland, Maine, announced in May that after 18 years of producing high-end custom furniture, he will now focus on developing new product and process designs for manufacturing and corporate clients. As a result, the company is currently winding down its manufacturing, catalog and retail operations.

"We are in discussion with several major American furniture manufacturers who are interested in licensing our intellectual property and design services. I'm very excited about the prospect of our designs reaching a broader audience while working to strengthen the position of American manufacturers in the global marketplace," says Green.

Green, who holds a master's degree in industrial design from Pratt Institute in New York, invented a fastener-free assembly system for making high-quality furniture in 1991. The patented system uses a series of precision-engineered self-locking joints cut directly into the wood parts, which eliminates the use of screws and glue.

His initial business plan was to license the patent to large manufacturers and continue working as a freelance industrial design consultant in New York City. But it soon became apparent that the invention was a bit too far ahead of its time, and manufacturers did not express the interest for which he'd hoped. He decided to find a way to continue working in the field and established Green Design Furniture in 1993.

"It was always my ambition to license my designs. I was an industrial designer, so Green Design was a laboratory to keep playing with this idea and for me to add value to the patent. The 18 years was a good run and I feel like I've proved the value of making furniture this way."

Green has continued networking and maintained relationships with manufacturers through the years. He says changes in industry dynamics are what prompted a series of calls from interested companies.

"Essentially, what's changed in the furniture world is that the industry is in turmoil. Foreign competition has led to manufacturing going overseas. When you talk to industry experts, it turns out that the cost of doing business overseas is not as great as they'd hoped. The cost of shipping containers has tripled in the last year and a half, and then there's damage to the product in the shipping process."

Green calls his system the 'Holy Grail' for furniture manufacturers. The technological innovation can help manufacturers reduce their environmental footprint and costs of production and distribution. The system cuts down on the space needed to manufacture furniture and also enables companies to ship directly to customers who can do assembly without any tools. High-quality finished products also benefit end users.

"This is a way to make a piece of solid wood furniture that does not work loose over time because there are no fasteners or glue. The process creates tapered dovetails, which create surface-to-surface contact, producing a very strong structure that allows the wood to move without pulling the structure apart over time."

In addition to more efficient manufacturing, Green believes companies are expressing interest in his work because they're looking to invest in more stylish, distinctive designs to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Green says it was apparent to him in the early 1990s that manufacturers were boxed into a corner by dealers to make their furniture cheaper and, in turn, their designs became generic. The furniture lines Green offers feature various design influences that make them anything but generic.

"We have 18 years of real-world experience that have proven the value of these designs and the manufacturing process we invented. Green Design Furniture has developed a reputation and brand that is recognized around the country. Our next step will be to license the designs and technology to others."

As Green Design Furniture reinvents itself as a design firm, Green plans to continue prototyping new designs in his downsized Portland workshop and anticipates that he will be able to continue accepting individual orders for his original designs and custom commissions on a limited basis. He has scaled back his operation from four full-time employees to one.

Contact: Green Design Furniture, 267 Commercial St., Portland, ME 04101. Tel: 866-756-4730. www.greendesigns.com

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue.