Never settle for less

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John Landis is a perfectionist when it comes to making furniture. The good news, he says, is that his employees are, too.

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Landis is the owner of John Landis Cabinetworks in Ivyland, Pa. The three-man shop produces custom furniture and caters to residential clients in the Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore suburbs. Landis primarily shows his work through regional craft shows and galleries.

At the 1998 Philadelphia Furniture Show, Landis met a client who set the framework of his career goals and defined his business. The client was a woman who had traveled from Connecticut in search of a custom dining set. After hours of surveying the show, the woman decided on one of Landis' table. She said she was spending an inheritance from a beloved family member on the furniture.

"It was at that moment I told myself this shop would never ever build a piece short of top-notch. We would strive for excellence from customer service to the application of finish," says Landis. "Right down to my employees, every single piece of furniture we build, we build it to the point that we love it, that we'd want the piece in our home. We recognize the relationship with the client must be one of trust and sincerity and that that relationship is the key to a successful business."

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Landis has kept that mantra, knowing that once furniture leaves his shop, it becomes a part of the clients' lives. He offers completely custom pieces, as well as 11 unique lines that allow for clients to easily return for additional pieces.

A sentimental person himself, Landis keeps handwritten records of all commissions in a leather-bound journal he purchased in Italy on his honeymoon.

Twist of fate

Landis grew up in Shenandoah Valley in northern Virginia. His father was a surgeon, but had a complete woodshop in his basement for hobby work.

"Having access to that shop, I goofed off and built things for the house. As I became a teenager, I built things for my girlfriends to try to impress them - jewelry boxes and things that I'm positive have since fallen apart. But I think I developed a liking for woodworking then," says Landis.

In 1986, Landis attended the University of Virginia where he received a degree in architecture. He practiced architecture for a while, but learned quickly that he didn't enjoy designing something and passing it off to be built by someone else.

While in search of a more satisfying occupation for which he could implement at least some of his college training, he stumbled upon Peter Kramer, a woodworker who owned a shop and showroom in Little Washington, Va. The visit awed him.

Pierced back dining set with chairs illustrates how Landis accentuates one architectural element while making sure the remaining parts of the piece are simple.

"I didn't even know that the woodworking profession existed - that people built furniture outside of huge companies. It was a huge eye-opener. When I walked into his shop, that was my first inclination - that that was my profession. I loved what I saw there."

After a few years of substitute teaching, Landis got an interview with Kramer. The interview consisted of two questions. First, Kramer asked Landis if he had a set of chisels and how often he sharpened them. Then, he asked Landis to look over the desk they were sitting at and discuss how long it would take him to build the same piece. Needless to say, with jewelry boxes and garbage bins in his portfolio, Landis did not get hired and was told there were no apprenticeships open.

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