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Craftsmen with passion and purpose

Posted by Renee Magyar on January 14, 2014

Meyer Wells leads the way in sophisticated, sustainable wood products and furniture

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Seth Meyer and John Wells offer creative and sustainable alternatives to conventional wood products

In 2006, Seth Meyer and John Wells joined forces to create high quality, custom design products from salvage materials and sustainably sourced wood. The company has grown from 2 to 20 employees in seven years, and has a notable client base ranging from ordinary homeowners to Starbucks to the Gates Foundation. Sustainable Northwest's Dimitra Giannakoulias spoke with John Wells, a 20-year veteran of the industry and the design expert behind Meyer Wells's "art from wood."

SNW: What are some of your key products or specialties?

John: We make interesting feature furniture like dining and conference tables that create a sense of "wow." People don't come to us because we are the lowest price. They come to us because they want to express something about themselves through our furniture. It's a personal or corporate branding effort. And when people choose Meyer Wells, it's a commitment to sustainability and design as well as quality.

SNW: It's really interesting that your products are personal expressions.

John: Yeah, we customize our services to fit our clients' needs. For example, we have a line of products for a local retailer where every piece is designed just for them. They wanted us to create a certain look and feel. Again, it's an expression of their brand through our work. We wouldn't take that furniture to another company. We would cultivate a whole new look for a new customer.  

SNW: How did you get started in this industry?

John: I loved going to shop class, it was my favorite thing. I went off to college and studied English literature but ultimately when I had to choose a career, I chose furniture. I ended up going back to school and studying industrial design at the Rhode Island School of Design.

SNW: What compels you now to do this work?

John: At the core it's about making a difference. I love design and furniture and I love connecting with people over issues that really matter. The sustainability piece is a deep core value of mine. When we made our own commitment to use sustainably harvested materials, we started to resonate with people who felt the same way. We're doing the best we can to change the way things are built in our industry.

Wood treated with a traditional Japanese technique called ?shou sugi ban? creates a unique finish as well as resistance to bugs.
Wood treated with a traditional Japanese technique called "shou sugi ban" creates a unique finish as well as resistance to bugs.

SNW: What's one of your successes?

John: The popularity of urban salvage has grown enormously since we started. The fact that people are copying our work is a big compliment. People see that we've had success and that inspires them to make the effort themselves. That extends the influence beyond our own business to make a difference.

SNW: What about your challenges?

John: An irascible material like wood - it never seems to behave the way you want it to!  

We also have the challenges of growing a business. We had an opportunity a couple years ago to produce a very large volume of furniture for a big commercial client. We could have decided to take 10% of the order and keep our business the way it was. Instead, we decided to expand our facilities and hire more people. Then it became a challenge not to turn away other customers, not to run out of materials, and not to reduce the quality of our work. Now we have  the demand of our new overhead. It hasn't been easy, especially with the economy.

SNW: Many businesses don't succeed long term. Your problem is in managing spectacular growth. To what do you attribute your entrepreneurial success?

John: I think it's a willingness to be influenced by people smarter than me. I'm willing to bring in other people to help me solve problems. We've done that several times over the last few years. For instance we hired a CEO to help us through the challenges we had when we expanded our operations. Neither Seth nor I had any schooling in management, so we were working side by side with someone who had more experience managing companies larger than ours. And we learned a lot.

SNW: How does FSC membership help Meyer Wells?

John: It's been a boost in marketing. If people know we are buying FSC stock they understand our commitment to sustainability. It's a story they respond to. They want to know that the company is acting responsibly. It's the fundamental underpinning of the Meyer Wells brand.

SNW: What is your vision for the company in 5 years?

John: We're moving into larger arenas, more commercial work. Commercial work is more steady. But we want to continue our residential custom work too. It's really satisfying on a personal level and on the craft and design side.  

Meyer Wells specializes in finely crafted, elemental modern design furniture and flooring.  To learn more about their work, please click here.