WV Furniture Maker Finds Success through Local Wood and Sustainability

Caperton FurnitureWorks is located in Berkeley Springs, WV and has been for nearly 40 years. When most furniture factories have gone out of business or moved overseas, Caperton is producing high-quality pieces using local wood and local skills for national companies like Crate and Barrel and Room + Board. (See the photo at right for a taste of the products, ready for shipping.) Demand for American-made furniture is growing, said owner Gat Caperton, and they're meeting that demand right here in Central Appalachia. A recent trade magazine article about the growth in American-made furniture featured Caperton:

"Three to five years ago, when I told people I was a U.S. manufacturer, they looked at me with a sense of puzzlement, disdain, or just felt sorry for us," said Gat Caperton, president of solid wood bedroom, dining room and occasional furniture producer Gat Creek Furniture "I was almost apologetic telling people I was a U.S. manufacturer. They felt I was doomed to failure."

Now, he said, the attitude is different, with people "looking to you with appreciation and even praise," he said. "This Made in America revival has been absolutely critical to our business and important to our country as a whole. We appreciate and feel fortunate people see the value in buying American products again."

A proud West Virginian, Caperton sources nearly all of its wood locally, using a lumber mill in nearby Elkins. And the pieces his factory produces aren't built by machines on an assembly line – each one is put together by hand. In a brilliant marketing move, Caperton sends along with the piece of furniture a postcard featuring the photo and story of the person who built it. Not only does this employ more people (over 100 people work at the factory, more than half of whom are women), it results in higher-quality products that will sell for higher prices. Caperton is the largest private employer in Morgan County. 

Recently, Caperton installed a biomass boiler to offset the factory's heating costs (photo at right). More than just a move towards sustainability (the boiler uses scrap and sawdust from the plant floor), it's a cost-saving measure – the plant used to spend tens of thousands a year on heating oil, and the boiler will pay for itself in seven or eight years. Caperton also promotes sustainable forestry practices, only purchasing wood that meets state and federal management standards, and are Chain-of-Custody certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. They've recently switched to water-based paints, which are better for the environment and employees' health. This year Gat Creek (the furniture brand produced by Caperton FurnitureWorks) won an environmental stewardship award from the American Home Furnishings Alliance

After learning all of this – and seeing the gorgous pieces – it was hard to tour the factory and not want to buy everything I saw. Luckily for Caperton's business, there area  lot of other folks who feel the same way.