Visions drive passionate work - Attracting business

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Attracting business
Although Fox Brothers will build an occasional spec piece, residential commissions are the main source of business. On the commercial side, a year’s work might simply consist of an occasional boardroom table, but the economy has put a damper on that type of work. Production is limited to chairs for customers who want six to eight to accompany a dining table. Commissions usually emanate from word of mouth or from interior designers.

Fox confesses he hasn’t updated his Web site in several years, but says it has worked well despite its shortcomings. It provides enough information and photos that people are able to understand the type of product he builds. A dining room table was recently built and shipped to Israel for someone who found him strictly through his Web site.

Fox used to be a regular at some of the annual furniture shows, including the nearby Fine Furnishings Providence Show in Providence, R.I., but has stopped participating in most of them.

“We pretty regularly apply to the Smithsonian and seem to get in about every other year, and I will continue to do that show as long as it exists because it is great and the people are great ... But having done them for years, they’re a huge investment, even in a simple weekend show that is relatively close. It’s tiring. The preparation, making sure everything that you are taking is just the way you want it to be, schlepping it around: It’s a lot.”

Tools and materials
For a spacious shop that houses up to four woodworkers, Fox has a modest collection of machines and tools that meet all of his needs. It includes an Altendorf C-45 sliding table saw, Wadkins sliding table saw and jointer, Crescent 36" band saw (built in 1955), SCMI Sandya two-head 43" wide belt sander, SAC Sueri 20" wide belt sander and S53 20" planer, SICAR Rapid 16" jointer, Laguna 24" band saw, Powermatic drill press, and Vacuum Pressing Systems veneer press.

He hand-selects his domestic woods from Northland Forest Products in Kingston, N.H., and from Keiver-Willard Lumber in his hometown. He uses a few exotics such as wenge, bubinga, Swiss pear, and Bolivian rosewood, which he purchases from Highland Hardwoods in Brentwood, N.H. Fox says he doesn’t use as much mahogany as he used to, primarily because of a quality problem.

About half of the work produced is with veneer, which Fox says offers virtually unlimited design possibilities.

“It’s a great way to use wood and create a look that’s different than solid. The other thing that I really like about veneer is the actual working of it,” he says. “Veneer is intolerant of poor precision, and sometimes you’re in the mood to be super-precise.”

Fun and discovery
Newburyport is the quintessential New England coastal town that has avoided substantial growth and has maintained its charm. The town’s Federal architecture and proximity to the ocean provide inspiration for Fox and his furniture making.

Fox speaks with a deep passion about his furniture-making career. Every day is a new day, the opportunity for a new experience, and, on special days, the chance to work with a new material or new design. Despite the current economic climate, he has maintained a decent backlog of work, but admits getting paid is tougher than it used to be.

His two sons have inherited his three-dimensional aptitude, but he doesn’t believe they will follow in his footsteps. As he says, “time will tell.” As to what direction Fox is headed, it’s wherever his business takes him. He’s just along for the ride.

“A few years ago someone said, ‘How did you end up here, doing what you’re doing?’ I answered, ‘It’s kind of like there’s a little stream on the top of the mountain and that stream never ends up directly below its source. It goes along and goes along. And that’s exactly why we’re sitting here. Everything is driven by commission, so I really don’t know what is going to happen next week. I really don’t have a stable of things that are going to be made. Time will tell as to who will come in the door and where that steers the shop. I know we’ll have a great time.” n