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Recession Buster: Bucking the trend

At a time when many small shop owners are doing everything they possibly can to stay in business, one Montana custom furniture maker is not letting the current economic uncertainty prevent him from pursuing his dream. Matt Usuriello of Billings, Mont., recently opened Usuriello Furniture Studio, a one-man shop specializing in high-end custom furniture.

Usuriello worked for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, but left that job to follow his woodworking passion at the Chippendale International School of Furniture in Scotland, finishing a nine-month course last June in furniture making, design and restoration. He returned to Billings two months later and spent the rest of 2008 getting his shop up and running. Usuriello is well aware of the challenges he faces by opening his business in the midst of a recession.

“It is one of those situations where I am pursuing one of my passions instead of probably the logical route,” he admits. “I’m trying to stick to a business plan. It’s a little tough in the beginning here, but I’m not caught up on my work, I have stuff going and that’s a step in the right direction.”

Usuriello has modified his garage and converted it into a shop with all of his machinery on rollers for easy mobility. Billings Business recently wrote a story about his new venture and word of mouth has provided some work from friends and a few new clients. He has also received comments about his Web site, where about two dozen examples of his “honest hand-built furniture and woodworking creations” are displayed. He is looking to build a broader market beyond the Billings area.

“My wife is supportive and we are both committed to the fact that we both need to give this a little time and, like I say, at this point I have some work, and it’s going to be tough, but financially we have a small home and we’re not too strapped, so it works out OK for the time being. I suppose if it really turns sour then I’d have to reconsider, but I think we’re going to give this a go, and I think it will work out.”

Usuriello is intent on building high-end furniture, elegant pieces for customers who are looking for a one-of-a-kind item, heirloom-quality furniture that can be passed down from generation to generation. His Web site states that he specializes in “bespoke solid wood furniture,” period furniture, entertainment centers, elegant jewelry boxes and humidors, while also designing and making handmade marquetry panels, boulle and inlay work, antique restoration, French polishing, carving and gilding. He plans to target “that .001 percent of the population” that is interested in something artistic and is willing to pay for it.

“My goal is eventually to make a decent living, have a bigger shop and start teaching woodworking. I really enjoy that end of it. Being artistic and being at the school for me was an eye-opener of how I would like to make a living eventually, which is keep my hand in woodworking, but to pass on the traditional techniques that I’ve learned because there’s sort of a lost art to it.”

Contact: Usuriello Furniture Studio, 2307 Kings Drive, Billings, MT 59101. Tel: 406-254-0964.

— Brian Caldwell

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