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When Andrew Graven started his custom cabinetry and furniture company, Kerf & Burled of Stokesdale, N.C., he didn’t have a set plan or envision where it would lead. He quite literally just went with the grain, leaving his corporate job behind. Now, having only been in business since 2017, he just purchased a shop to more than double his space and seeks to add more employees to the five full-time and two part-timers he already has.

“If we’ve got four or five restaurants going on at one time, we’re busting at the seams. That’s why the new shop is about 20,000 square feet,” says Graven.

The company designs and builds custom furniture for homes, offices and restaurants nationwide with a heavy focus on bars and breweries. This spring, before the May transition out of the former 8,000-sq.-ft. shop in Greensboro, N.C., the shop shipped 15 trailer loads for installations. With work pouring in, he is confident the investment in a larger facility will better accommodate his busy schedule.

Kerf & Burled designed and fabricated the bar, bar top, stools, wall-mounted benches and leather cushions, tables and bourbon locker for Stem, a bar in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Kerf & Burled designed and fabricated the bar, bar top, stools, wall-mounted benches and leather cushions, tables and bourbon locker for Stem, a bar in Winston-Salem, N.C.

How it began

Born in California, Graven moved to the Greensboro area as a young child and took an interest in construction projects.

“As a kid, where we were living, they were building neighborhoods behind us and every day after school my brother and I would go to the construction sites. The framers would let us shoot nail guns and just tinker around. They’d give us scraps and we built treehouses,” he says.

Graven studied design and drafting at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., where he also took a few woodshop classes. When a friend started building custom homes in the region, he jumped on board.

“When I graduated, we were building big timber frame homes. It was 2007/2008, but that’s when the market crashed and people weren’t building these $3 million dollar homes anymore.”

With no building work left in Boone, Graven moved back to Greensboro and took a job selling textiles all over the world.

“I was traveling every week, and then when my wife (Kelly) and I started having a family,” he says. “At the same time, we started building a house, and my wife wanted all this furniture, and I’m like, I’m just going to make it.”

By 2014, the house was complete, and Kelly was so impressed with the furniture she encouraged him to start selling some of the pieces.

“I was working 40 to 60 hours a week at my full-time job and up until 1 to 2 a.m. in my shop building furniture for other people. At one point [Kelly] said I had to pick, and I said, ‘Well, if I do this, you’ve got to back me.’ She did 100 percent.”

Brycen Younkman and Fulton Little work on a big table order.

Brycen Younkman and Fulton Little work on a big table order.

Work pours in

In just his first year, Graven soon found himself searching for more space. He had one employee in his small garage shop and neighbors started complaining about the noise. He moved to the Greensboro shop in 2018.“We got one of our first pieces into a restaurant, then the next restaurant we did three or four, and the next we did about 12 pieces. Then we started doing full bar buildouts, bar tops, and started getting into concrete and steel fabrication,” he says.

The clientele grew, locking in work for the years ahead. Projects also got bigger and bigger.

“A lot of these restaurant guys are all tied together. The investors and owners, the brewery guys, they all know each other. We’re now doing breweries down in Wilmington, Charlotte, and other big cities. We do bar tops, inside and outside furniture, tables, booths, you name it. Once you get your hands into these networks, they grow.”

In-state jobs range from Hayesville in the western part of the state to the beach. The company has also served customers in Virginia, Georgia and South Carolina, and beyond.

“We’ve shipped to the Turks and Caicos. We’ve shipped to Utah, Washington, and we just did a massive order for the Yellowstone Club, a resort in Big Sky, Montana,” says Graven.

A bourbon guy

The new shop offers more elbow room and storage capacity. It also gives Graven the opportunity to share the company’s unique industrial design style with the public.

“Ideally, I want a showroom and a store here to display the leather stools, the whole Bourbon Collection, and other pieces we’re making,” he says.

The Bourbon Collection is based on one of Graven’s original chair designs that’s cut entirely on the shop’s Laguna SmartShop 5’ x 10’ CNC router.

“I’m a bourbon guy. I came up with a rocker with big arms on it that rocks just a little bit, so you don’t spill your drink everywhere. There’s a chair, rocker, loveseat, sofa and swing that are all part of this collection and we sell a bunch of them. It would be nice to have these in stock [and] on display so if people want them, they can just come here and pick them up.”

The Bourbon pieces can be customized with wood selections and finishes, and there’s a metal line that can be powder coated to any color. The leather stools are made with a metal frame and real hide leather for the seating and backing. Graven started incorporating metals and other materials into his work more recently, which has boosted costumer interest.

“It’s been a good niche for us,” he says. “People can come in here and see we’re not just a woodworking shop. It certainly started that way but that’s not all we do. We do a lot of steel fabrication in our furniture, and we do a lot of concrete work in bar tops and tabletops.”

Customers are calling for live-edge bars, conference tables and the like. Graven is dedicated to sourcing materials as locally as possible, and gets most of his stock from Steve Wall Lumber in Mayodan, N.C.

The shop follows plans from builders, designers and architects for commercial jobs. For the residential work, which accounts for about 10 percent of business, Graven draws the plans himself. He says interacting with design professionals helps strengthen his inspiration.

“I like the commercial work just because I’m able to sit down with these architects and designers who are bringing in a lot of new ideas that I haven’t seen. They’re getting pushed on all these new products from people, and that trickles down to me so when I have a residential customer. I can show them all the new things we’re doing. I love that they kind of allow me to just do what I want in a lot of cases, and to me, that’s fun.”

Help wanted

Graven, 37, is looking to grow with two more full-time employees. The trick is finding them.

“Finding people is tough. They’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve got experience’ and they can’t read a tape measure. But sometimes not knowing anything is better, versus someone coming in and hurting themselves because they’re trying to do things their way. We want people to respect our processes and trust me that we have them in place. I’ve messed it up a hundred times. I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on mistakes. I’m not saying that to be a jerk. I tell them this because I know from experience.”

Graven also enjoys doing charity work. He and the team recently completed a large project for children in West Africa. “We made a bunch of metal bunkbeds for an orphanage in Sierra Leone. My wife does a lot of service work, she’s a nurse, so a group of nurses went there and [noticed] all the beds were termite ridden. The kids weren’t even sleeping in the beds, they were sleeping on the floor. So, we ended up shipping a tractor trailer of them down there. It was awesome.”

Graven is proud of his successful shop. “It’s taken a long time to build this up. It’s like a snowball effect. If you’re honest and on time – and if you’re not on time, you communicate and not wait until the day it’s supposed to be delivered to say you’re going to be late – it’s very simple, and your network is going to grow.”  

This article was originally published in the September 2022 issue.

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