Step through the door of Chariho Furniture and take a deep breath. Making a choice here will take some time.
Everywhere you look on the main floor of the 25,000-square-foot showroom, you’ll see some of the finest craftsmanship this country has to offer. Owner Ed Smith has always been about American-made goods, and he’s quick to point out that everything in his store is 100 percent made in the U.S.A. – most of it from Amish woodworkers.
“When people hear Amish, they think of Shaker style or an oak roll-top desk,” says Smith. “But the Amish do unbelievable contemporary, transitional, and mid-century modern styles. In fact, they do all the styles.”
Currently, Chariho carries 33 Amish lines, and has literally millions of options with those lines.
Smith elaborates, “We have one dining room company out there that has two million possible dining room combinations. You choose the size, shape, the edge, the legs, the number of leaves, the finish, the wood, and the chair style.”
Smith became interested in Amish craftsmanship about 25 years ago, starting with one little vendor called the Amish Peddler. “He was a guy from Lancaster, Pennsylvania who’d fill his truck with Amish furniture and go from store to store peddling his pieces,” says Smith. “That was my first introduction.”
Now most of the Amish furniture comes from Holmes County, Ohio. This is where more hardwood furniture is built than anywhere else in the United States, according to Smith. Working with the Amish people is a great experience. “If you call up an Amish woodworker and say there’s an imperfection in something, it’s taken care of,” says Smith. “The level of customer service is just beyond what we experience with other factories.”
Surveying the expanse of gleaming tabletops and warm, rich tones of wood, one can see the quality of the workmanship. A wide variety of woods are used, including maple, cherry, oak, hickory, walnut, flaming birch, tiger maple, and English walnut. “We try to do as many exotic woods as possible,” says Smith. “No one comes in looking for, say, an elm dining table, but when they see it—they have to have it!”
Chariho still does a lot of custom upholstery that comes out of the Hickory Thomasville, NC area. Some factory-built pieces are available, but most of the wood product comes from Holmes County. Other Amish areas that provide products include Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. “We shop for what we feel is the best value and has the most options,” says Smith.
With high standards, Smith knows that his furniture is not for all people. “There’s a price that’s inherent with what we do,” he says, “but so far this year we’ve shipped to 11 states.”
Recently, Chariho began offering live-edge dining and occasional tables, and solid slabs of wood for dining tabletops. “It’s so cool because it’s art,” says Smith. “There are no two like it in the world, and people are falling in love with these unique slabs of wood.”
Available currently are ambrosia maple, English walnut, and the occasional rare chestnut. With live-edge, there are three levels: boards are glued up to leave the edge, or two pieces are match-booked, or it’s a one-piece slab (hard to believe a tree was really that big!).
Interior design is a large part of Chariho’s business. The customization is a big plus for a customer because Chariho carries Amish upholstery, leather, recliners, bedrooms suites, dining room sets, sofas, chairs, and assorted occasional pieces. Everyone at Chariho has gone through an interior design certification course and can layout a home, pick the right styles, sizes, colors, and traffic patterns. The design element is part of the package when a furniture purchase is made.
“We carry a company out of Berne, Indiana that uses solid maple frames,” says Smith. “They have a lifetime warranty on the frames, the seat springs, and the cushion cores. They have 1,000 to 2,000 fabric selections and 100 leathers.” All the leather is 100 percent top grain – no split hides, no bonded leather, no faux leather. Fabrics still have to be sourced, but there are a lot of performance fabrics coming back on the market; Sunbrella, Crypton, and Cordura are domestically made in the Carolinas.
“Twenty years ago, we were traditional, reproductions, country,” says Smith. “You know, cows and chickens on the prints and lamps—but that’s not at all who we are now. We don’t know of another store this size in southern New England that offers 100 percent American-made.”
Chariho Furniture is located at 10 Richmond Townhouse Road, Richmond, RI 02898; 401-539-9043; www.charihofurniture.com