Natural hardwood is a blank canvas for Shelby Holtzman, who began building her own furniture in 2011 when she couldn’t find store-bought items to fit inside her small Ferndale home.
One day in early 2014, while Holtzman was working at a coffee shop, customer and friend Dan Erickson asked her what she enjoyed doing other than selling coffee. Holtzman shared photos of her furniture — and Erickson, who was ready to make a career change, was impressed.
“You could see the quality was there,” says Erickson, a Hamtramck resident and Plymouth-Canton-area native. “Shelby was taking Industrial/Mid-century designs and putting her touch on them.” Soon after, the two founded Long White Beard, a Ferndale furniture company specializing in handcrafted tables, unique modern shelving, and fine homeware.
The gregarious Holtzman runs the wood shop, where products include exquisite dining tables, end tables, coffee tables, shelving, chairs, and smaller items. “I’m pretty much self-taught,” she says. “I saw things I liked and couldn’t afford. I was a little cocky and thought, ‘I can do that.’ ”
Her skills have grown along with the company. Workers have been added, and the wood shop can accommodate orders for conference tables and much more. Products are being shipped around the country. Erickson’s life has changed, too. While he works in the office handling customers and online orders, he has also learned the art of welding and oversees the small metal shop, where he creates everything from brackets to table legs.
The pair started out in Holtzman’s garage, then moved to Detroit. Today, they’re settled in a workshop in Ferndale that’s easy to spot because the front features a colorful mural with animals and flowers sprawled on a long, white beard.
And what about that name? The founders’ dads both have beards, explains Erickson, who notes that his own beard is “getting whiter.” Holtzman says custom orders are increasing. “That’s nice because it makes you stretch your legs,” she says, “and it’s led us to experiment with a lot of new materials and techniques. It’s certainly fed my inspiration.”
One speciality that customers are loving, the founders say, are the show-stopping live-edge tables — slab tables created with the natural wood edge left intact. Many of the slabs have dramatic splits, but that only adds to their desirability.
“Designers use them to warm up a space,” Erickson says of the live-edge tables. If a space features mainly clean lines, designers choose a natural polished live-edge table with a modern metal-leg base, he says. “It looks beautiful and gives the homeowners a big, stunning piece for their home.” Holtzman and her crew use hardwoods such as walnut, maple, cherry, and elm for their furniture. The live-edge wood comes from fallen urban trees, sourced from various places such as Live Edge Detroit in Troy. The result is heirloom-quality work.
The company’s homeware (bowls, platters) prices range from $100 to $250, while furniture runs between $1,000 and $5,000.
Long White Beard is making serious efforts to connect with the Ferndale community. As of press time, a showroom was scheduled to open in May. Plans include hosting events featuring music and barbecues for the neighborhood.
“(Customers) challenge us,” Erickson says, adding that he thinks that’s a good thing. “We don’t want to make the same thing over and over,” he laughs.
More information: 860 Livernois Ave., Ferndale, 248-506-2470, longwhitebeard.com.