Award-winning designer Martin Goebel has a lot to say about the way furniture design and manufacturing is being done in this country. In just five short years, he has created a new paradigm for vertically integrating design and manufacturing of American furniture—one that combines efficiencies in automated manufacturing with bespoke, hand-worked wood. According to Goebel, this new, lean approach to the design and manufacturing of furniture has increased his revenue dramatically each year he has been in business.
Martin received a traditional furniture craft apprenticeship at nineteen, and was the youngest student of craft folk legend, James Krenov. He holds a BFA in Studio Fine Arts from University of Missouri and an MFA in Furniture Design from Rhode Island School of Design. I met with Martin at his design studio and asked him what he thinks about craft and the DIY movement in America today.
Goebel told me: “As for highly skilled craftsmen/designer/ manufacturers—compared to fifty years ago—I don’t believe there are many left in the US at the moment. The acceptable level of what it means to be a 'craftsman' has never been lower in the US. The American consumer has been beaten into submission by a nearly all-encompassing flood of low quality goods created overseas. When these shoddy goods are basically all that is available to the average consumer, it is up to professionals to redefine the standards of quality. Europe would never stand for the low quality product that floods America. It is our duty as design and manufacturing professionals to culturally shift production of quality goods back to the USA, by means of logical design for high tech manufacturing. It’s impossible to replicate quality with knock-offs.”
After looking at a number of samples in Goebel’s showroom, I learned that the first step in the design of his products starts in digital 3-D CAD, and then communicated to industry patrons in the forms of renderings, 3-D prints, and physical prototypes. According to Goebel he has no plans to add expensive infrastructure to assist in automated processes.
“Manufacturing infrastructure already exists in every major US city and is being greatly under-utilized. Reorganization of manufacturing processes through transferable design allows us to harness these inefficiencies to the benefit of all involved,” says Goebel.
Pointing to a particular barstool he explained: “Why should we do that when we can first design, prototype, and then outsource the metal bases of this bar stool to a manufacturer in, say, Illinois? Why not fully utilize those machines that might be sitting idle two days out of five. By utilizing the existing manufacturing technology in other places—or cities, everybody wins.”
Goebel & Co. recently completed and delivered an order for eighty-four pieces of furniture to Urban Chestnut Brewing Co., a major brewing operation in St. Louis, as well as thirty-four pieces of furniture to Climate Corporation. The custom tables and benches created for Urban Chestnut are massive, heavy and nearly indestructible—the kind of tables and benches you would expect to find in a German-styled brewhaus.
To learn more about Martin Goebel and his new approach to lean and efficient design, go to his website.
Martin received the “2014 Young Woodworking Professional of the Year” award from Vance Publishing for his work in digital design/hand craft integration, a theory he has coined “Synthetic Craft”. Goebel & Co.’s contract line will be launching a number of new products at NeoCon 2015 in Chicago this June.