Artist Spotlight: Family Craft

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A small, hickory-furniture company led by patriarch Phil Faircloth has big-time reach, with celebrities and national chains clamoring for its work.

story and photos by STEVEN STIEFEL

For more than a quarter of a century, Phil Faircloth and his clan have made a living off the land by operating Appalachian Rustic Furnishings in Wildwood, Ga. Faircloth traded a career as a tropical plant traveling salesman for work making chairs out of his home, selling them on weekends.

“It has grown beyond my wildest dreams,” he says.

Hickory trees still make up about 99 percent of the raw material used to create the family business’s chairs, ottomans, settees, rockers, tables, stools, desks, beds, night stands, coat racks, benches, towel racks, lamps, mirrors, bird houses and more. Even scraps go into miscellaneous products like mirrors with edges made of short hickory bits.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]

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[/s2If][s2If is_user_logged_in()]The goods are popular with celebrities like Estee Lauder’s George Lauder, Robert Redford and evangelist Billy Graham, and they have appeared in Ralph Lauren stores as part of displays. “Star Wars” creator George Lucas gave an interview with Oprah Winfrey from a room on the Skywalker Ranch occupied with the Faircloths’ creations. Appalachian Rustic Furnishings also creates the chairs in Twin Peaks restaurants.

Faircloth was selling tropical plants when he met a man in his travels who made cyprus wood chairs. He was intrigued and began making and selling hickory chairs as a sideline at home. His handiwork became so popular that he quit selling plants and started making furniture full time.

The Faircloths opened their first shop in Rising Fawn, Ga., in 1987, and moved to their current location in 2000. Things grew steadily until the economy took a hit in 2008, prompting many regular customers to sell the second homes they decorated with bent-hickory furnishings.

“It hit the Carolina mountains real hard,” Faircloth says. “It really hurt there for awhile, but it is starting to come back now. We used to have about 15 other guys besides us, but we are pretty much a family business, seven of us and one helper now. I guess it is kind of rare these days to have a business where the whole family works in the same place, but it is a good feeling. We’re looking at the next generation taking over, my son Jesse and my daughter Brittany.”

The Faircloths are content with the current size of the business. “We produce items for dealers and decorators, but the bigger the volume you do, the harder it is to keep up the quality,” Faircloth says. “So I guess we are as big as we want to be right now. Besides, you have to work with what nature gives you.”

Between September and February, local contractors cut the trees Appalachian Rustic Furnishings uses, leaving the bark on them. Faircloth says this work is done in the cold season because trees sap during the summertime.

The bending technique intrinsic to Appalachian Rustic Furnishings’ products involves using a machine with steel bars that stretch and curve the wood until the desired shape sticks. The furniture is dry-jointed, and the Faircloths heat the hickory wood in a kiln to eliminate moisture and kill bugs before bending it. The drying and heating process takes several days and also prevents the wood from shrinking after it’s made into furnishings.

The style of furniture is popular with those who fondly recall the hickory chairs at summer camps in the Adirondack Mountains. In Florida, old timers remember gypsies who traveled from place to place peddling handmade pieces of furniture. Faircloth owes some of his knowledge in bending and stemming techniques to the Amish. He researched how the Amish build furniture when he was learning the craft.

The Faircloths assemble all their products by hand. The whole process takes about six weeks. While Appalachian Rustic Furnishings sells and ships goods all over the country, the company also deals directly to customers from its Wildwood location and rents pieces of hickory furniture for events such as weddings.

“It’s a good feeling to pull something out of these woods and make an
honest living with your hands,” Faircloth says.

Appalachian Rustic Furnishings is located at 33 N. Dade Park Dr., Wildwood, Ga. Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m; 706-820-8110 [/s2If]