By MELISSA HUTSELL
Business Journal Writer
LODI — Local custom craftspeople are in the business of detail, and with their decades of experience, can turn a piece of furniture into functional art.
Big name stores like Ikea present a plethora of products to refurbish homes, but, these items offer little personality or durability. Aesthetically, these pieces might do, but, in some consumer opinions, don’t necessarily stand the test of time.
Custom-made pieces are made to last, according to April Morse, co-owner of the Weber Company, located in Lodi.
The family-owned-and-operated business specializes in creating a range of wooden crafted products, including cabinetry and entertainment centers, Murphy’s beds and cutting boards. Also amid their inventory: solid walnut storage boxes, crates and coasters.
Morse’s father, Mark Weber, and grandfather first opened the Lodi-based shop in 1972. Morse began working alongside her father in 2001. By 2012, she became sole owner of the business. The decision, she said, was partially a result of the economic crisis.
Business dropped by 80 percent, and by 2009, Morse explained, “We had to lay everyone off.”
The company went from employing more than 20 to just three. This required Morse to learn the hands-on skills of the trade, like finishing and measuring. She’s also helped to bring a new product to the catalog; cutting boards.
Decreased business made new inventory a necessity. Morse knew she need something different, and so, drew inspiration from the region’s wine industry. She created wine bottle-shaped cutting boards from wooden scraps from the cabinet-making process. The two-inch thick board are made from maple and cherry engrain squares. “Just like cabinets, we make them sturdy and last a lifetime.”
Her products were picked up by such Fortune 500 companies as Williams-Sonoma, and sold in more than 200 stores nationwide.
Cutting boards are now sold exclusively on the Weber Company’s website as Morse develops new products for the national market. Inventory has grown to include different shapes, and specialty-made boards are engraved for events like weddings or anniversaries.
Morse writes about the experience on her blog, “Custom Cabinet Girl,” which is credited with helping to save the family business, according to an article published on AOL Finance shortly after the product’s launch, “Family Business Saved by the Blog.” Their story has also been featured in Forbes, on MarthaStewart.com’s American Made contest and on the Nate Berkus Show.
While cutting boards have become a signature item for the company, they still maintain the specialty that’s kept them in the business for more than 40 years – custom cabinetry.
Both homeowners and real estate agents have found that renovations, such as kitchen upgrades, can increase the value of an existing home, according to sources such as U.S. News and World Report, or Remodeling’s annual industry analysis – Cost vs. Value Report.
Additionally, HGTV.com finds current trends that help attract buyers include custom or semi-custom wood and specialty storage features.
“Custom cabinets allow you to design specifically for your kitchen layout, style and storage needs,” according to the HGTV.com article titled “Maximum Home Value Kitchen Projects.”
Other popular projects, explains Morse, include filling open (and sometimes oddly shaped) niches in walls. “We can make cabinets to fit exactly that space,” she said, down to the centimeter.
One of the most unique pieces created by the Weber Company was a California shaped cutting board. Another; a bookcase for a rounded room, which created an illusion due to the curved edges, Morse explained.
Home offices, hutch cabinets and entertainment centers are also common. “We can fit exactly that TV you’re buying, and all the components you need (such as stereo speakers or game consoles),” said Morse.
Perhaps the biggest appeal is the sturdiness of custom pieces, as they won’t sag overtime like store-bought, ‘assemble-yourself’ structures made from particleboard.
Though custom can be costlier, said Morse, “you’ll get your money’s worth. It’s made the way you want it, and will last a lifetime.”
For customer and homeowner, Geoff Turner, his custom entertainment center was money well spent. The built-in piece, he described, perfectly matches his kitchen cabinetry, fits a 75-inch flat screen TV, features shelving and cupboards.
The addition has changed the Turner’s living space significantly, he said, allowing for maximized space and organization. Board games and DVDs – it all fits comfortably, he said, “and at end of day – it’s beautiful piece.”
Turner compares the importance of a custom piece in a home to the features of a nice car. For example, he said, classy rims belong on a classy car.
Aesthetically these things are immeasurable, Turner said.
Turner said to say they stare at the custom piece for two-to-three hours per day is not an understatement. “When you look at it, you smile and marvel. It’s worth the money you pay. If you pay 10 times more (for a custom piece), you’re going to get 1,000 or 1 million times the value,” he said.