Wednesday, January 23, 2002/lk
When Clint Kapp and Jim Greenleaf broke two saws in an hour, they knew they had to get serious. So the two custom steel furniture makers, who call their Hood River business Fly Fabrication, bought "Big Willy" and never looked back.
"It's the Cadillac of saws," Greenleaf said, demonstrating how their nicknamed cold saw pumps coolant down the blade to dissipate the heat as it cuts through steel. "It allows us to do so much." For example, cutting through steel rods as if they were sticks of butter.
Greenleaf and Kapp started Fly Fabrication in a shop at Greenleaf's house last summer and have been refining their offerings ever since. The impetus for creating steel furniture came from Kapp, who has the furniture business in his blood. His grandfather founded the New York Furniture Exchange and his father still sits on its board.
"As a child, I couldN'T care less about the furniture business," Kapp said. But then last year he was at a crossroads in his life, living in Vermont and working an uninspiring job at a ski shop. In his "quiet time," he began to think about designing furniture and making it out of steel.
At about the same time Greenleaf was also looking for a creative outlet. The two old friends -- Greenleaf had met Kapp when the latter was working as an auto mechanic in Colorado -- reconnected and the seed for Fly Fabrication was planted.
"Anyone who has ever met Clint will tell you that he has magic in his hands," Greenleaf said. He used that magic during 20 years as a mechanic for high-end imports -- he specialized in working on BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes' -- and again in the ski boot industry.
Knowing his friend's expertise, Greenleaf was enthusiastic about the furniture idea and suggested they set up shop on his property.
"Clint packed up in two days and drove out here," Greenleaf said.
The two began by collaborating on some ideas for tables -- designing a simple but elegant end table with a glass block top. Somewhere in their first days at work they broke one brand new saw, then another. With the purchase of Big Willy, they got the saw situation squared out and were on their way.
While perfecting their end table, they toured furniture stores in Portland for ideas.
"We kept seeing all this mission style furniture," Greenleaf said. "It's really popular. We thought, why don't we do this out of metal?" So they did, designing a mission style coffee table that has been their most popular piece.
"The idea is to take an established design style and tweak it into our own style," Kapp said. He and Greenleaf collaborate on ideas, but Kapp does most of the metalwork -- including precision welding -- while Greenleaf handles sales and marketing.
Greenleaf credits Nicole Morton, owner of Twiggs on Oak Street, for helping launch their business.
"We walked into her store and told her we were starting to make furniture out of metal," Greenleaf recalled. "Her eyes lit up. She said, `No one's doing that'." They made some custom display shelving for her store as well as some tables that she's sold.
Their success at Twiggs gave them confidence. With no appointment, the two loaded up a coffee table and drove to PH Reed Furniture Company in Portland's Pearl District -- a fine furniture and interior design consulting company.
"We went in and said, `We've got this table, would you like to see it?'" Greenleaf said. The Reed people humored them and went out to the sidewalk to see the table. "They couldn't believe it," Greenleaf said. "They loved it."
Greenleaf and Kapp have been working with PH Reed ever since. They've made tables to sell in their showroom, and the company has directed several of their interior design clients to them. Greenleaf and Kapp recently finished a custom bed frame and a glass topped dining room table for two different Portland couples.
"What makes us different is that we don't have a big warehouse of stuff," Greenleaf said. "We make it custom. We can make it however you want it."
"It's been interesting to see how the pieces take shape," Kapp said, referring to the custom items. "The client participates in the design so a fair amount of their personality is projected in the piece."
Because Fly Fabrication isn't trying to mass produce their items, a fair amount of their own personalities goes into projects as well. Kapp is a self-described audiophile, so he began making speaker stands and now Fly is on the verge of sealing a deal to provide a quantity of them to a speaker manufacturer in Wisconsin. Likewise Greenleaf, a long-time surfer and windsurfer, came up with a steel-framed surfboard stand that he's marketing.
Greenleaf would like to eventually move their shop to a bigger location away from his home. But for now, he and Kapp are concentrating on developing their product line and cultivating clients. Along with their popular tables, Fly makes mirror frames and recently designed and built a custom entertainment center weighing over 400 pounds.
And the partners are enjoying their business every step of the way.
"Everyone has been so open and excited about what we're doing," Greenleaf said. "It's been really fun to talk to people about it."
Kapp agreed. "A lot of the stuff just makes itself," he said. With a little help from Big Willy.
Fly Fabrication can be reached at 386-2704 or visit their website, www.flyfab.com.