Design in the Time of Tariffs

Guest blog written by Ted Boerner, Founder of Ted Boerner Furniture.

A large part of what makes an original design successful is the alchemy of makers, materials and process. I trust our makers to craft our pieces with care, using the best materials and finishes available.  When the materials become scarce or the quality changes, the design is affected and we have to adjust.  From the perspective of a designer and business owner it feels like I am constantly attending to these fluctuations like a circus plate spinner.

We are all affected differently by the current administration’s imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum.  Usually the effects are felt later, but we felt them in advance when the uncertainty and chaos started even before the tariffs were imposed.  As the steel industry tried to figure out what it would mean in the future, their customers began buying up material to avoid the impeding tariffs.  This meant that the supply of steel was reduced drastically, leaving only lesser quality stock at higher prices.  We weren’t even sourcing our metal from the countries that would have had tariffs, yet everyone reacted.

Handcrafted production at Ted Boerner Furniture

Handcrafted production at Ted Boerner Furniture

Our company is small and the artisans we engage with have small spaces so they buy stock material as needed. We cannot compete with the huge companies that fueled this panic, so we are left paying higher costs for lesser materials.

But the effects go well beyond cost.

Thicket table in productions 1.jpg

Our Thicket Coffee Table, for example is one of our most reliable products.  In order to provide a quality finish on its base, we need good quality steel that can be plated.  The plating process is fickle enough but with imperfections in the base material we struggle to create a consistent, stable finish.  Orders had to be done over three, four and five times to get it to work.  The plating shop blames the metal shop and vice versa.  Our sales reps and designers get frustrated with the delays and confidence wanes. We had to respond, compromise and shift gears.  Powder coated finishes became the more reliable option in order to keep this and other products viable.

But, these actions by our officials made us scramble in order keep a valuable asset in the flow.

I’ve been learning a lot more about powder coating and have discovered its limitations and qualities in order to make it work for us.  I have noticed a lot more powder coated products out there…perhaps others have felt this squeeze.  I’m actually finding a new appreciation for the finish and it has somewhat changed the look of some of our pieces, hopefully for the better in the long run.

We constantly endeavor to make our designs distinctive.  Adjusting our refined, custom processes to ones that are more mainstream may end up inching our designs towards ones that could be more easily copied and produced by a larger shop with less refined processes. These are all choices that need to be considered in order to maintain our high level of originality.  We are glad to be a member of Be Original Americas – especially now.

Ted Boerner Furniture  was founded in 1988 by Ted Boerner and Frank Pontes, offering innovative and original furnishings. They encourage an appreciation for everyday objects – not only for their thoughtful design, but for what they are made of, for those who make them, and for what they come to symbolize in our lives.