When you walk into the Furniture by Todd showroom and see the elaborate pieces of wood furniture, you may immediately think that the creator of the items has years of formal training. But that’s not the case.
“I learned it on my own from reading books and watching Norm Abram,” said Todd Reed, who owns Furniture by Todd with his wife, Darlene. “It’s trial and error.”
Todd, 64, said he wasn’t interested in woodworking as a kid.
“I was into cars, mechanical things,” he said.
He and a friend from high school did have aspirations of building a boat, but those plans fizzled.
“We ordered the plans and went way overboard,” Todd said. “It was a houseboat. We looked at that and said, ‘Nah, we can’t tackle this.'”
He became a mechanic, and stayed in that field until 1988. He described his time as a mechanic as “before the age of the technician. We were mechanics then.”
At the time, Darlene was a doll maker.
“I made furniture for the dolls and I gradually shifted into making furniture,” Todd said.
This was the start of a fulltime gig for Todd, as he transitioned from a mechanic to an “artist.”
For around 18 years, they traveled to art fairs throughout the Midwest and into the Dakotas.
“You worked three or four days a week and then you would be gone,” Darlene said. “We did about 40 shows a year.”
The two got off the road around 11 years ago when they rented a small showroom in King. After around five years at that location, they moved to a bigger showroom across the road, and have been there since.
“We’re busy year-round with orders,” Darlene said.
Todd described the furniture he creates as “a cross between rustic and Adirondack.”
He said there are many positive aspects of owning his own business.
“I work for myself so I don’t have to answer to anybody, except Darlene,” he said with a laugh. “I never went to college. I know how to do a lot of things but I don’t have a piece of paper telling you I can do it. Today it’s tough to find a good job unless you have an education.”
Flexible hours are also a bonus.
“I work seven days [a week], but I do take a day off here and there if I need to,” he said
He does admit that seven days a week is turning into more like five or six days a week. His hours per day have also been decreasing, but he still puts in plenty of hours of work.
“It’s getting to be less and less,” he said. “I used to do 12-14 [hours per day], but now if I get 9 or 10, that’s a pretty good day.”
Darlene knows they are fortunate to have enough work to fill that many hours.
“We count our blessings,” Darlene said.
Todd said he spends his time in the woodshop creating his masterpieces.
“For me the selling part is hard, that’s why Darlene does that,” he said.
When asked why it is hard for him to sell his items, he responded, “I don’t know.”
He added, “People come in and say, ‘Wow, that’s nice.’ But I know the thing that maybe could have been done better.”
“An artist can never sell their own stuff,” she said. “We did lots of shows with lots of artists and they have a hard time saying they are good at something. Every piece in here he could pick apart and tell you why.”
Darlene spends her time in the showroom meeting with customers.
“It’s easy to sell what you love, and I love Todd’s work,” she said. “For me it’s easy.”
What some people would consider imperfections, Todd likes to feature it in his furniture. He cited an example in which most people might discard a table that has a knot showing in the wood on the top.
“I like to highlight those types of quirky things in wood,” he said.
The wood comes from a local sawmill. But customers can bring in their own wood for customized projects.
When making furniture he uses natural items whenever he can, as well as items made in the United States. He said it is getting difficult to find hinges made in the United States. He has gotten away from buying knobs for furniture.
“That was an ah hah moment,” he said. “I was making a stick table and I had it too long so I had to cut the end off. I looked at it, and said, ‘You know what, that’s a knob.'”
Handles are also made out of parts of branches.
“I do carvings too. Those take a lot of time. I thought about doing some sort of carvings that would be handles and knobs,” Todd said.
The carvings on furniture are all done by hand.
“There’s no pattern. It’s whatever strikes me,” he said.
The scraps created during making furniture are not wasted.
Three years ago, Todd started making fishing lures from scrap wood.
“I have a place in the basement, a table, where I paint them,” he said.
He said some customers buy them to just display, while others use them when fishing.
“They do catch fish,” he said. “One guy caught the biggest bass he ever caught on one of them. So yeah, they do work. They do catch fish.”
Darlene said the planer chips and sawdust are sent to a local farmer who uses it for chickens. The remaining scraps are burned as the Reeds use wood heat.
Items can be bought only at the Furniture by Todd showroom. Darlene says they don’t ship items because it is too expensive.
“I like the idea of people coming on vacation here and they can buy something that’s locally made by someone here,” he said. “Rather than you want to bring something home from where you went on vacation and it’s something that came from China. It has no meaning. To me this has meaning.”