Last Spring, at a fundraising auction for Lima Christian School, Elaine was the winning bidder on an Adirondack “escape.” Today we headed out for two nights at Hedges at Blue Mountain Lake and a night at the Adirondack Hotel on Long Lake. We always want to wring every drop of enjoyment out of every trip we take, so we planned to stop in Manlius, NY along the way to do a factory tour of the Stickley furniture factory. Wow! What a day this turned out to be!
The Stickley factory offers free tours every Tuesday at 10:00. This was perfect timing for us, because we wanted to leave home early in the morning, and we couldn’t check in to our cabin until 3:00. We arrived at the factory with just about 10 minutes to spare.
We both love “arts and crafts” furniture, sometimes known as “mission oak.” Stickley is known for their high-quality line of this sort of furniture, so it was fascinating to hear their story and see their production line. One of the things we learned is that Stickley stopped making the original line of arts and crafts furniture around 1915 and then re-introduced this style in 1989. So if you have any original Stickley arts and crafts furniture, that is considered to be a real heirloom item. The new stuff is based on the original designs, but it uses updated methods and some updates to the designs. Our tour guide was George Webster, and he did a great job.
Our tour started with the computer-assisted sorting and selection of incoming lumber. I was fascinated to see how the computers scan each board and identify the flaws as well as the usable portions of that board. They then cut the good stuff from the flawed stuff and discard the unusable portions. The good parts are identified right from the start to be used for a particular item of furniture. Apparently the database has information on every single board needed for every item of furniture, and it matches up incoming boards that will be used for each item. George said they discard about 50% of the wood that they purchase. This, of course, contributes to the high pricetag Stickley furniture commands. (This was to be an ongoing theme that George developed: doing things the Stickley way is expensive, and this is why the furniture they produce is so expensive.)
Throughout the tour we were to see how the company uses computer-assisted design and processes where it makes sense to do so, and hand-work when it makes sense to do that. Some processes just cannot (yet) be effectively mechanized. This factory employs about 700 people, and we got to see many of them in action.
Another fascinating thing I learned was about the square posts used in many Stickley pieces. Quarter-sawn oak has the most interesting grain, and it also has the most structural integrity. When you cut a post out of raw oak, the quarter-sawn features are only shown on two of the four sides. One of the original Stickley brothers invented a way to miter the post and assemble a new post that puts quarter-sawn pieces on all four sides. Other manufacturers use veneer on the two non-quarter-sawn sides to make it look quarter sawn. But that method lacks the structural strength of the Stickley method. They call their posts “Quadrilinear” posts.
After we left the factory, we took a short ride down the road to visit the Stickley Museum. The museum is in the building that used to be the Stickley factory, up until about 1989. We learned more about the history of the company and saw many examples of their work. By the time we left I can honestly say that I have a better understanding of why Stickley furniture is as expensive as it is. I still don’t know if I can justify spending the kind of money needed to purchase any, but I do understand it better now.
After a couple more hours of driving we arrived at The Hedges. We’ve stayed here once before, back in 2015, so we knew we were in for a treat. This time we were staying in one of their cabins right by the lakeshore. As a guest here you get to use their kayaks and canoes, you can hang out in their lodge or anywhere on their grounds, you can swim at their beach, and they serve a delicious dinner and breakfast to their guests each day.
After the lovely sunset we enjoyed a poetry reading by professor Charles Bachman from Buffalo. This was a marvelous and lovely first day of a short getaway. Partial retirement can be pretty nice!