Noblesville resident Justin Kauffman developed an interest in making handmade furniture after his wife’s grandfather, Ted Lacey, helped him build a simple chest of hope.
Kauffman built the chest, his first piece of furniture, in 2000. Over two decades later, he is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Kauffman Fine Furniture in Noblesville.
Kauffman married his wife Audra in 2002, then the couple moved to Boston to pursue graduate studies. Kauffman earned a master’s degree in Old Testament and Biblical languages, but never lost his interest in furniture making.
“When we lived in Boston, the owner let me use the cellar in the house and I continued to work with my hands,” said Kauffman, 44. “When I graduated, I decided I would rather work with my hands than with my listeners.”
So Kauffman enrolled in North Bennet Street School, the oldest trade school in the United States. Soon after, he developed an appreciation for making 18th century style furniture.
“The training at North Bennet Street was focused on that time period and those styles, but I would still prefer it even if the school hadn’t focused on that,” he said. “For me, it represents the pinnacle of furniture. The designs, embellishments were phenomenal and are unmatched in furniture making. The carving, the inlay, the proportions – they are still attractive to many people today.
“They fit into historic homes and even into modern homes.”
Kauffman graduated from business school in 2007, and he and his wife moved to Pendleton, where Kauffman started his quality furniture business. The couple moved to Noblesville in 2012.
Most of Kauffman’s work is commissioned.
“I do several shows a year,” Kauffman said. “I exhibit in furniture fairs and artisans’ fairs and period craftsmen. I put in a few spec parts that I built and take commissions, so 90 percent of my business is commission work. Sometimes someone will come to my website.
When a customer orders a work, they may want something original, something reproduced from a book, or something reproduced from a museum. If the client wants a replica of the museum, Kauffman will occasionally visit the museum to study the piece and take photos to make sure his piece is truly a replica.
One of these pieces was commissioned by Wendy Williams, a resident of Haddonfield, NJ
Williams met Kauffman at a show in Pennsylvania, where she bought a Queen Anne dresser. She then ordered several pieces, including two occasional chairs. One of the original chairs was held at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in Boston.
“He and I visited Winterthur with one of the kind people there so he could study it, and he made two chairs for me,” Williams said. “I ordered a lot of parts from him. He is an absolute master in the choice of wood and its use in the design of the room. There is a beautiful fluidity and fluidity in his pieces. I think it’s a treasure.
“I think he’s a real treasure because he’s pursuing an incredible job that not many people have the skills or the will to do now. It makes beautiful works of art for everyone’s home.
Besides indoor performances, Kauffman also participates in period reenactments and outdoor performances.
“I have a period tent and period outfit, and I do the same at outdoor shows as I do indoors,” Kauffman said. “It’s just that I dress in period clothes.”
The shows usually take place on the east coast.
“This is mainly because the people who live there know about this type of furniture, appreciate it and want it for their 18th century home,” Kauffman said.
Kauffman parts can take up to 500 hours to complete. Prices range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the coin.
“Some people want something simple like a nightstand or a small side table,” Kauffman said. “The others want something very ornate. They want special carvings or veneers or inlays that elevate a simple dining table to a work of art.
Some of Kauffman’s clients are repeat customers, such as Jim Connolly, a resident of Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Connolly, a United States Marine Corps veteran, discovered Kauffman at a war market fair in India in the spring of 2020. Connolly bought a mirror.
“He had merchandise to sell, and he had a little Chippendale mirror that I was looking for but couldn’t find of any quality,” Connolly said. “He had one with tiger striped maple. I was really impressed with it and how pretty it was.
Connolly only carried a credit card and Kauffman did not accept credit cards.
“My checkbook was at home,” Connolly said. So, (Kauffman) said, ‘Take it home and send me a check if you like it, and if not, send it back to me,’ which I found amazing these days. , I took it home and immediately wrote a check and asked him to make a shelf. It hangs on the door of my house. It is an iconic piece of America that hangs in My house.
Connolly then ordered another mirror, which Kauffman is building. It pays homage to the Marine Corps.
“I don’t have the words to describe how good it is,” Connolly said of Kauffman’s work. “He pays great attention to detail and is a perfectionist in his job. I don’t mind paying a lot of money for a good job and good materials. Anyone interested in period 18th century furniture, Justin is the guy to see. I don’t think he can do anything with wood.
Unsurprisingly, Kauffman pays great attention to detail.
“Everything I make is built the way it would have been back then,” Kauffman said. “The carpentry is cut and adjusted by hand. There are dovetail drawers. This ensures that their piece will last as long as those beautiful pieces we admire today have lasted.
In addition to making furniture, Kauffman teaches Latin and Greek at the Highland Latin School in Carmel.
To learn more, visit kauffmanfinefurniture.com.
From beginning to end
Justin Kauffman was often involved in his work from start to finish – as he even cut down the trees he uses.
“One of the reasons I harvest my own logs is that I can get the whole log, and that means if I build a large cabinet, each piece of that cabinet is made of a plank from the same log. “said Kauffman. . “So the color matches, the number matches. I can get particularly wide planks which is important to me as a lot of the rooms I build require wide planks. It would be hard to find in a normal lumber yard.
Kauffman mainly uses walnut, mahogany, cherry and figured maple. He loads the felled tree onto a trailer and takes it to a sawmill.
“I’m there when the sawyer cuts,” he said. “I examine the log as the blade goes through it and say, ‘Oh, we have to turn it’ or, ‘I want it that thick. It’s very personalized because I know what the end product will be.
Sometimes Kauffman air dries the wood, which takes a year per inch of thickness. Specifically, it performs best with walnut and cherry – by color and easier handling – when air dried.
If Kauffman wants to use mahogany or tiger maple, he has to go to a lumber yard in north-central Pennsylvania, as these species don’t grow in the Midwest.
Kauffman was inspired by several 18th-century artisans, particularly the work of Thomas Tufft, a furniture maker in Philadelphia in the late 1700s, and Eliphalet Chapin, a furniture maker who trained in Philadelphia and then went on to moved to the Connecticut River Valley.
All Kauffman furniture is finished with a hand rubbed finish.