SPECIAL FEATURE part 2
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by Harvey Bigelow
Futon that is Made in America
There are very few manufacturers left making high end futon frames in the United States. The Bed Works, in Maine, Norka in Pennsylvania, S&J Woodworks in Massachusetts, and several other craftsman owned and operated shops crank out real hardwood furniture that just happens to be futon furniture.
Harvey Bigelow Designs in Fall River, MA is one of the best in the futon business. His futon frames come in five or six futon arm styles, five different finishes, and are made of American white ash and cherry.
His history runs the gamut. During his career in the world of business he has worked at The Foxboro Company, a precision manufacturer of engineered products, and Raytheon.
“After Raytheon I got into the ‘leisure industry,’ ” Bigelow said. He spent the next twenty years building sailboats for O’Day, Novack & Willis, and his own firm Squadron Yachts. He also added an MBA to his resumé during that time.
“With the advent of a ten percent luxury tax on boats in Rhode Island, they (the lawmakers) all but destroyed the high end sailboat business, so I went back to Foxboro and then on to a fledgling MCI. Bert Roberts, who I knew from the boat building business, called me in to help manage the Boston office. In four years we went from 50 people to over 500. We were flying,” he said.
Bigelow fell into the futon frame business almost by accident and has taken his many skills to market with a great line of solid American ash furniture for the home.
During a recent visit to his shop we talked about the current state of the futon frame conversion mechanism. Bigelow uses his own version of the slider design popularized by Bob Fireman and From The Source. “I took the basic elements of this classic system and refined it for today’s futon (mattress),” he said.
Those new futon mattresses, filled with various foams and resilient synthetic fibers, don’t fold or stay folded as easily as the cotton filled units of the past. “When you try to keep the futon mattress folded in the sitting position it can spring off the frame or sometimes even convert the futon frame,” Bigelow added. To solve this problem he added a simple drop point at the end of the horizontal groove in the arms (#3 below). Bigelow’s ratchet kicker is also a variation on a theme that employs a simple face to face design with no notches or grooves like the other styles on the market.
Like many smaller manufacturers in this still seasonal business Bigelow has to maintain a balance that allows his production to peak during the early spring and summer months and then hibernate a bit during the winter. With his broad life and business experience he is also very creative, offering special products for certain customers that are not in the catalog and doing some custom work as well.
With the entire home furnishings world moving to imports it is always a treat to see someone with plans to always say, “Made in America.”