Out of the Woodwork
Four Detroit furniture makers carve their niche in the industry with quality craftsmanship and customization
Photographs by CJ Benninger and Brad Ziegler
Detroit’s always been a city characterized by makers. And as the “new” craft movement continues to etch its name onto everything from beer or bar soap to anything else on Etsy, local furniture makers are also enjoying the revival of all things handmade.
True, there’s a time and a place for larger furniture houses where factory-made options abound, but you won’t find that here. Instead, you’ll find an emphasis on quality over quantity, longevity over expedience, and a dedication to Midwest manufacturing while maintaining a clientele beyond state and national borders.
There’s also attention to detail, a penchant for sustainable materials, and an originality in perspective — a reimagining of a table and how it moves with you, a reconsideration of storage and what gets stored.
But what distinguishes these furniture makers from the rest is the pride taken in their craft. And in a time when “craft” can be slapped onto any old handmade ware, pride can make all the difference between something ephemeral and something that lasts.
Richard Ganas comes from a line of Detroit makers; his grandfather is a brick mason by trade and his mom’s family boasts more fine artists.
It’s no surprise, then, that while growing up in Livonia, Ganas developed an affinity for Legos, K’nex, and drawing — childhood hobbies that would eventually steer him toward a concentration in product design at Wayne State University. It also led to a gig in New York City as a product designer.
After five years developing furniture projects and product models in New York, Ganas returned to Detroit, opening Ganas Manufacturing in February 2015.
In the past year, Ganas’ New Center outfit has churned out a variety of one-off custom residential projects and collaborated with local artisans on projects for The Zealous Root salon in Grosse Pointe Park and Eve restaurant in Ann Arbor.
“We pride ourselves on giving the client a custom-tailored product that’s aesthetically pleasing and also very functional for them and fits their exact needs,” Ganas says.
Ganas’ business may focus on client collaboration, but the designer and builder isn’t without his personal tastes.
“I like strong stuff,” Ganas says. “I like it well-made. (Being) very usable is a big thing for me. I don’t want to make these dainty things. I want to make things that you can slam your beer mug on or drop a dinner plate, and it’s cool. It’s gonna last.”
Ganas’ venture is still in the early stages — he’ll be celebrating the shop’s one-year anniversary this month. But so far, business has been steady, thanks in part to the growing community of Detroit creatives, as well as the city’s manufacturing legacy.
“The support structure here is awesome,” Ganas says. “There’s a lot of craft stuff going on, but then there’s also more gritty manufacturing … They don’t have that in New York.”
Alex Drew & No One
When Alex Rosenhaus and Drew Arrison met in New York in 2010, they were already honing their respective crafts — Detroit native Rosenhaus had been working at the custom furniture company Walter P. Sauer. Memphis native Arrison was at design and model-making studio Clockwork-Apple where, among other things, he built sets for photo shoots and art installations.
“We always joke that his stuff had to stay up for like a day or week, just to look good in a photo, whereas mine lasts for generations,” Rosenhaus says.
Since quitting their jobs in New York, retuning to Rosenhaus’ native Detroit, and launching AD&NO in 2013, the couple has crafted pieces for a number of national clients, as well as local ones like Will Leather Goods in Midtown, where the couple contributed leather pieces for the store’s interior.
In addition to commissioned pieces for commercial and residential clients, AD&NO also boasts a retail line that includes over a dozen tables and mirrors, most of which are based on distinct geometric designs.
“You can go as far out there as you want,” Rosenhaus says. But, she adds, the form should also carry a function. “Even some of our pieces that are crazy geometric, they serve use.”
According to Rosenhaus, AD&NO’s hottest-selling items are their kite-shaped and triangular mirrors, along with their “Two Diamonds” coffee table, which was a Martha Stewart American Made Award finalist in 2014.
AD&NO products are sold in Austin, Nashville, Los Angeles, and New York, but Rosenhaus would like to keep some of AD&NO’s work closer to home. “We want to get out there to more of the architects and interior designers locally because we work with so many out of state,” she says.
“We want people to know what we’re capable of and that we’re here, because it’s a lot easier for everybody being local.”
Abir Ali and Andre Sandifer can finish each other’s sentences. That’s bound to happen when you’ve been designing and crafting furniture together for 10-plus years — especially if during that time, you married each other, too.
Ali, a Detroit native, and Sandifer, a Grand Rapids native, began collaborating on furniture design after meeting at the University of Michigan where they studied architecture. The couple developed their furniture business in Ann Arbor before moving to Chicago. After several years, they moved to Detroit, recognizing that with clients spread out across the country, home base could be anywhere.
In 2011, they set up shop at the Russell Industrial Center where Sandifer continued working with sustainably sourced hardwoods — his material of choice while in Chicago.
“Hardwoods have their own character,” Sandifer says. “But they also have their limits. So a lot of pieces that we have sort of challenge or push the hardwoods to their limit.”
Aside from natural wood, Ali Sandifer pieces are also characterized by their straight-lined forms and original details like the rounded edges that carry through several of the pieces in their retail line.
“We always say we want our pieces to be as beautiful as they are intelligent,” Ali says.
As such, there’s also a strong emphasis on functionality.
“A lot of the pieces that we do are focused around storage and sort of being playful with storage,” Sandifer says.
“And being versatile with storage,” Ali adds. “Technology changes all the time. So if we started out with something for a book or a newspaper, it also has to work with a tablet or whatever else.”
In terms of style, Ali Sandifer also strives for originality.
“We like to say that (our furniture) is mid-century,” Sandifer says. “But it embodies a sort of a timeless aesthetic. A lot of our pieces, you really don’t know what era it’s in.”
“Or what country its origin is,” Ali says, adding to her husband’s thought.
Floyd grew out of a common problem among city dwellers: what to do with your furniture when you move. The answer: Get it to move with you.
Kyle Hoff designed the company’s flagship product, the Floyd Leg, after moving from Ann Arbor to San Francisco to Chicago to Detroit, making the better part of those journeys with the same Ikea bed frame in tow.
“I probably have the record for assembles and disassembles of (that) bed because I was very vigilant about not throwing that thing away,” the 28-year-old Hoff says.
Recognizing the need for something more lasting and portable, Hoff developed the leg — a steel, clamp-on product — that allows customers to create a table from any flat surface.
The idea intrigued a fellow Corktown resident, Alex O’Dell. Hoff had the early prototype in his room, O’Dell says. “It was a really powerful concept to be able to take something like that and collapse it so easily and have it move with you.”
In January 2014, the two University of Michigan graduates launched a Kickstarter campaign, eventually raising more than $250,000.
Since then, Floyd products have been sold in over 30 countries (their main markets being New York City and Tokyo), and manufacturing has expanded beyond Detroit to Chicago and Akron, Ohio.
The company’s products have been featured in The New York Times, GQ, and a bevy of home design websites. Hoff and O’Dell say that while they’re interested in reaching a wider customer base, they also want to make sure they expand their business to scale.
“We’re making what are very small products,” Hoff says. “But I think the effect they have on how people live in cities, how people are consuming, can be very large.”