Handcrafted in Hagerstown

The Statton Company has produced furniture masterpieces for more than 80 years

The Statton Company has produced furniture masterpieces for more than 80 years

November 13, 2007|By JOSEPH BERGER

A visit to Statton Furniture Manufacturing Company's historic factory at 504 E. First St. in Hagerstown's South End provides a rare opportunity to observe skilled craftsmen using traditional hand tools and modern woodworking machinery to create the finest reproductions and adaptations of Early American masterpieces from the 18th and 19th centuries.

As you walk across the well-worn wooden floors, you might see in production a large conference table and set of chairs, tall cabinets and bookshelves for an executive suite, and many elegant accent and occasional pieces for the bedroom, dining room, and home office.

For the last 20 years, Philip J. Statton has served as president of the Statton Furniture Manufacturing Company. He represents the third generation of Statton family ownership. It's one of a diminishing number of businesses in America still owned by the original founding family.

Statton furniture is unique in American furniture manufacturing because it is a bench-made product made with painstaking care at every step of production by highly trained craftsmen, not hurriedly mass-produced on a conveyer-driven assembly line.


"A finely done piece of furniture by a master cabinet maker has an overall quality level that can be recognized above mass-made furniture," Statton said.

Only the finest select Appalachian black cherry is used to make Statton furniture. An inspector in the Rough Mill & Machine Department examines each board for color and grain match and removes portions of a board containing unsightly knots, checks or splits. Cherry lumber squares are neatly ordered in various thicknesses and lengths. Organizing the wood in this manner has enabled Statton to avoid unsightly glue joints and ensure consistent grain figure and color in drawer fronts, and table tops.

The Assembly Department is where Statton cabinetmakers work on their individual pieces and practice the art of fine carving of unique designs and motifs such as the shell and acanthus leaves that embellish a Frothingham highboy or the cusped (curved) corner of a Queen Anne end table. Cabinetmaker Gene Gaver, who recently celebrated 50 years with Statton Furniture, is one of six Statton employees who can build a piece of furniture from start to finish.

Among his many responsibilities, Gaver makes sure that drawers fit precisely, adjusts and fits doors and hinges, and inspects the margins between frames and cases for evenness. He sands the whole piece and tones down any noticeable difference in color within the piece before it's sent to the Finishing Department.

One aspect of Statton furniture that exudes quality is the lustrous, deep, smooth finish resulting from a laborious, multi-step process that enhances the cherry wood's attractive grain patterns. Statton finishes range from a light, honey-colored Natural Cherry to a reddish brown in the Arlington Cherry and New Market Cherry finishes.

In the Trim Line and Shipping Department, a team of workers fits hardware, mirrors, glass and drawer inserts. After workers carefully wrap the pieces for shipment, they are then delivered by a fleet of Statton-owned trucks to 200 retail customers.

The Statton Story

Philip Statton's grandparents, Philo Arthur Statton (1895-1981) and his wife Helen Brightvill Statton (1895-1986) founded the company in 1926. After graduating from college in 1917, Philo was hired as a cabinetmaker at the Brandt Cabinet Works in Hagerstown for $25 per week. He worked under the supervision of owner Carl Brandt for eight years before founding Statton Furniture.

The company survived the Great Depression because its furniture was marketed and sold primarily to a wealthy clientele who were less affected by the deteriorating economic conditions. In 1931, Helen Statton collaborated with designer William L. Beard (1908-1984) on the "Tru-Type" House, an innovative furniture display which showcased Statton furniture "in attractive room settings for the first time, complete with accessories, wallpaper and drapery treatments."

Over the next five years, 70 such displays were built in different department stores across the country, including Wanamaker's, Macy's and Lord & Taylor. Philip Statton recalls that his grandmother was "the first woman in a powerful position to effect change" and offer "a woman's point of view" in the way furniture was arranged in a home. Because of Helen Statton's pioneering ideas, realistic-looking furniture displays became a widely accepted practice in furniture store retailing.

Under William Beard's direction, Statton introduced its most storied brand, the "Tru-Type" Americana collection in the early 1930s. Its overall theme was "authentic designs for homes of today" that would last for generations. Amazingly, many of the pieces Statton made 50 or 60 years ago are fast becoming collectible antiques. Carefully balancing Early American authenticity with the needs of contemporary lifestyles would be a consistent design criteria applied to all of Statton's collections.

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