Furniture scene in W. Michigan.

I recently moved from Seattle to W Michigan with intentions of getting involved the contract furniture industry. I was wondering if anyone had any general insight on the furniture scene in W. Michigan. What the culture is like at various companies, etc. Any insight would be appreciated.


Isn’t Steelcase in Grand Rapids?

Here are a few of the larger furniture makers in and around Grand Rapids… Not all of them are office/contract.

Herman Miller
Hickory Hardware
Knape & Vogt
Shape Corporation
Light Corporation
Thomas Regout
Interface Fabrics
American Seating

there are a lot of firms in the GR area that cater to contract furniture. there is a good number of smaller contract companies in mis-south indiana that utilize a lot of those west michigan firms. companies such as indiana desk, jofco, paoli, etc.

there are more furniture design jobs between grand rapids, indianapolis, and chicago than you can shake a stick at.

there are more furniture design jobs between grand rapids, indianapolis, and chicago than you can shake a stick at.


there are 4 main furniture design area in the US. the two largest are around the lake michigan area and the piedmont area of the carolinas. new york/NE and norcal are the two smaller centers.

the contract furniture companies are around the midwest, the residential companies are in the south east. there are exceptions. there are a number of companies on the west coast, but you are mainly talking about US-designed, asian-manufactured.

in my experience, the best MADE furniture comes from the southeast. i’m talking craftsmen at work. west michigan produces the finest contract furniture. in the US, of course.

good to know. thanks!

i heard that there used to be more residential makers in GR area, but after the Great Depression a lot of them moved down south due to lower labor and material costs…

thanks for the info.

midwestsky - Great list!
Kung Fu Jesus - thanks for the geographical break down.

Kung Fu Jesus, did I read on another thread that you went to Kendal? I Briefly Attended there in 99 before transferring, I wonder if we crossed paths.

I Briefly Attended there in 99 before transferring, I wonder if we crossed paths.

Just curious, what major were you in at that time? Did you transfer out of state? I’m transferring there next year.

Yea, I transferred out of state. I was in the ID program, and I took a few courses in the furniture program as well.

feel free to PM me if you want to know more.

when you say contract furniture… is this where you do a design, they make and sell it and cut you a royalty?..

i’m working on my line and if it gets big i would need a place to manufacture it…


No, contract furniture is what goes into offices, hotels, restaurants, schools, hospitals, etc. Everything that isn’t home furnishings.


would these places get approached to design and build furnishings or are they just a millwork house that bangs out designs from architects/etc?..

i used to work at a millwork shop and i just tweeked .dwgs to make them work… and produced shop drawings…

then from there did some exhibit engineering/shop .dwgs

would these “shops” get involved in running a designers line or am i shooting in the dark here?

just curious and asking questions now


i graduated in '99 from kcad.

ok, there are a few threads that are running sort of parallel to each other. the west michigan/exhibit/furniture discussions.

i have been in furniture since '96. in '00, there was a huge downturn in the furniture industry. i was laid off at a firm due to this. i took an exhibit and pop design job (point of purchase) and ‘nested’ until i could get back into furiniture. it took about 30 months. that’s when i relocated to the SE for another furniture job ('03).

exhibits and pop in west michigan there is Xibits near GR and Harbor Industries in Grand Haven. Xibits does a lot of custom and intricate displays and environments. Harbor builds permanent and semi-permanent fixtures and displays. Harbor focuses on wood and metal, though they build with other materials. I worked with both. Not the highlight of my career, but a great learning experience.

furniture in west michigan is still isn’t just grand rapids. holland has herman miller and haworth. haworth has a main, centralized facility on the south end of holland, off 196. herman miller has facilities scattered all over holland, zeeland, and norton shores. they used to have a large oeration in grandville, but that is no longer used. miller has chair plants all over those areas. their design center is on the south side of holland. the HM design center (known as the design yard) and the haworth headquarters are about 3 miles apart.

there are a couple of other lesser recognized industries in that area.

automotive interiors - johnson controls in holland, used to be prince. this place is loaded with trans designers from CCS, art center, UofC, etc.

boats - tiara yachts is in holland, i believe they also own S2. chriscraft used to be in the area, but i don’t know about their operations anymore. Atwood makes a lot of nautical equipment and accessories.

bissell - vaccuums and such.

there are other tertiary industries, but i haven’t lived in the area for almost 5 years now.

the furniture industry is suffering again because competition from overseas. many companies are not positioned correctly to compete at the international level. this is particularly true in the SE. a lot fo restructing has been happening for quite some time. HON is now the largest contact manufacturer, but they have acquired many smaller contract companies over the past 5-7 years. some of these include gunlocke, harter, paoli.

i think steelcase still has an IDEO office in GR. Chesser-Schot <sp?> is a player in contract furniture, though i have an unsavory opinion about one of the principals there. Synergy product development, JRD, etc all have contract furinture clients. most of the firms in the GR area with furniture clients were former employees of those clients.

all the furniture companies manufacture prototypes. i worked for HM in the late '90’s their protoype shop is large, professional and incredible. i know steelcase, haworth and their subsidiaries also have the same capabilities. the firms inthe area build working prototypes of varying degrees and function.

there are more furniture design jobs between grand rapids, indianapolis, and chicago than you can shake a stick at.

Swartzendruber, in Goshen, Indiana

Not contract furniture, far from it. I was offered an apprenticeship after I graduated from Purdue in 1973. I was too wrapped up in the “industrial” part of designer to realize what could have been.

i wonder if that company taps the large amish community nearby?

Based on my observation that there were two buggies, with the horses tied nearby, that there are at least two Amish workers there.

Swartzendruber operated (then) in an interesting manner; the craftsman assigned to a particular customer would interview them, personally fabricate each piece of furniture, and would oversee the delivery of the product to the customer’s home.

Kendall grad in 2004 here. I didn’t know you were one too Kungfu!

Kungfu touched on most of the major players in the area. West Michigan has a fairly good job market for ID. I got out after graduation to work for a furniture company in Chicago though, and now I’m in NE Wisconsin working for another one.

Of places worth mentioning: Izzy Design (contract furniture), Curious ID (consultant firm), and Whirlpool has a large opperation in Benton Harbor (by the IN border). I think Atwood folded a few years ago. I work with a guy that used to work for Milsco in Milwaukee, and he said Atwood folded and his company bought them to add a boat division to their opperations. I think Trent Eckoff (sp?) might still be there in fact. Not sure of who else would be though.

I would highly recomend that you pound the pavement at Neocon in Chicago, and even High Point if you want to get accquainted with the furniture market. I had great luck approaching companies there and speaking to marketing or design managers if they were present. I got my first job after meeting one company at High Point, and my new one after meeting someone at Neocon. I also had some companies at Neocon tell me they would give me some consideration for accepting contract work too.

In my experience though, most companies are looking for contract designers, not in house people. Larger companies like Steelcase, Hayworth, and their subsidies will take people on staff, but most small companies (especially those relying upon mostly foreign manuf. or strickly importing) simply don’t have the workload to keep a designer on staff.

las vegas furniture market is eclipsing highpoint. my company is staging their last showing there next month. we have already secured a showroom in vegas and will also be showing there in july.

vegas is planning to force the issue more by moving it’s dates to coincide with the highpoint market in a year or two.

as much as i love north carolina, highpoint is a craphole. yea baby, VEGAS!