Martin Goebel has made high-end offerings for VIPs and exclusive hotels. Now he’s creating American-made wood furniture for the public, and at competitive prices.
Furniture designer and artisan Martin Goebel has been handcrafting luxury appointments for wealthy clients around the world for the past 12 years.
From his hometown of St. Louis, the 41-year-old woodworker has steadily grown his Goebel & Co. Furniture shop by producing high-end custom furnishings for many extravagant homes, corporate headquarters and the renowned Phillipe Starck Hotels, which are named after the famous French interior designer. He has even personally designed and built a throne for a tribal queen of Zambia.
But after a dozen years of building a solid furniture-making infrastructure, Goebel is returning to his St. Louis roots by creating his first furniture and home goods brand that caters to a much broader consumer market.
The new line of furniture, known as the Kindred Collection, is entirely American-made and will make its debut at the International Spring Furniture Market on April 22-26 in High Point, N.C. The show is one of the three most prestigious furniture unveiling venues in the world, the others being in Hong Kong and Milan.
Goebel enjoys working with his hands and doing one-off luxury items, but decided it is time to manufacture a product that is accessible to a wider audience.
“Without a lot of horsepower, a lot of money, a lot of floor space and a lot of good people around you we just weren’t able to mass manufacture for the first 12 years,” Goebel said. “We didn’t have the big angel investment when we started. I started with two partners, some old machinery and about $25,000. The company was truly built organically.
“Now after 12 years of truly organically building a business, we’ve been able to bring in all the technology we’ve been outsourcing locally the last 12 years, so the entire operation is vertically integrated in our St. Louis facility. Product development, design, prototyping, manufacturing – except for the few raw materials that come in – is done right here and goes out the door as the finished product.”
Kindred will be sold wholesale as well as directly to consumers via its website. Costs are “very competitive,” in line with retailers like Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, and Pottery Barn, Goebel said.
But importantly, “it is 100 percent American made and is heirloom quality,” he added.
Goebel had his sites set on larger scale manufacturing in 2019 when he purchased a 15,000-square-foot building in an industrial section of St. Louis along the Mississippi River. Built in 1919 as the home of the Traffic Motor Truck Corporation, Goebel invested $500,000 into remodeling and retrofitting the structure. He also has the option of leasing space in two adjacent buildings should the Kindred Collection rekindle the days of prolific American-made furniture sales.
Goebel and Co. will continue to provide custom furniture pieces, while the Kindred Collection will appeal to a broader market of shoppers looking for finely made American wood-based furniture.
The initial Kindred Collection will include approximately 30 different designs and 120 skews of the various options of size, wood, color and finish. The product line includes dining tables, living room chairs, coffee tables, credenzas, china hutches, nightstands, queen- and king-sized beds, small desks, armoires and more. All the Kindred Collection pieces are free standing wood-milled and there will be no built-ins, kitchen cabinets or upholstered sofas or chairs in the collection.
“We are a wood facility,” Goebel said. “In the case of Kindred, we are staying almost exclusively wood for the moment. I want to bring in people incrementally into the higher grade of furniture.”
Goebel sources his wood from a variety of suppliers and sawmills, and three-quarters of the material is purchased in log form. It is cut to specifications on site and, depending on the species, it is stacked and air-dried in the Goebel shop for approximately 12 to 18 months. It is then kiln dried.
“We want to know the moisture content and I want to know what region of Missouri it came from because the ecology is going to make it look different,” Goebel said. “I want to categorize every one of the logs with a color-coding system specifically so that I don’t add stains or dyes to the wood. You get the natural wood and it is color-matched because you are using wood off the same tree for each individual piece.”
Education played a large role in Goebel’s knowledge of wood products but it still is not a substitute for his many years of experience. Although he did not start Goebel & Co. Furniture until 2011, he has been involved in the furniture business since he was 19, making studio furniture in Northern California as an apprentice under the tutelage of acclaimed Swedish woodworker James Krenov.
Goebel then moved around the country studying furniture making while also hand-crafting artifacts for residential, commercial and hospitality projects. He has operated within product development since 2002, earning a Certificate of Fine Furniture from the College of the Redwoods in Northern California, a Bachelor of Fine Arts-Studio Arts at the University of Missouri and finally a Masters of Fine Arts in Furniture Design from the esteemed Rhode Island School of Design.
After leaving Rhode Island, Goebel returned to his hometown of St. Louis in 2006, and lived with his parents for three years while trying to get his furniture venture off the ground.
“Even though the luxury economy was not great at that time, I knew I wanted to be in this industry,” he said. “It became evident very quickly that if I ever wanted to have a bigger footprint, make more money and be more stable I would need to find a better way than just a one guy shop.
“I was living independently for the previous 10 years and then actually having to swallow your pride and go back because now you are doing this thing that you are saying is just around the corner. It’s something I really had to stick with, but I eventually bought out both of my business partners and purchased this old industrial building.
“My intention was to always get into affordable product, because I was doing things like a $100,000 conference table, $50,000 executive desks, a set of three beds that all cost $40,000 that went to the to the sixth house in the mountains of one of our clients.
“It’s flattering when people ask you to produce these things because I’m a guy from Missouri. My mother is an Austrian immigrant, my father is a German immigrant. We were middle-class people and frugal and not these people who can get anything they want in the world. They are coming to the guy in Missouri for something like that. I don’t think I’ll ever understand it to a full level and we do it beautifully but it is a learned skill.”
Goebel & Co. Furniture has nine employees but Goebel plans on hiring a staff of 20 additional craftspeople and office workers once the Kindred Collection gets off the ground. And despite his years of education, Goebel believes the necessary woodworking skills must be learned on the job rather than exclusively through a textbook.
“We’ve got this amazing crew of craftsmen right now and the beauty of adding the technology into it is we can now create jobs for people that don’t necessarily need to have 15 or 20 years of cabinet making training,” Goebel said. “Don’t get me wrong, as we produce these stratosphere marquee pieces you need someone that has all of that specific training, but in the case of this, there is a very good design, very good product development, very good engineering and extremely capable precision manufacturing equipment that will now allow us to utilize people that I would consider assemblers. Within 30 or 40 minutes I can get someone who has no furniture making experience but is a good worker that wants to do well, and I can make them operational. They will then build a skillset individually.”
After the April release at the High Point Furniture Show, the company website will have a detailed order form and photos of the Kindred furniture that is for sale. Consumers will be able to choose a product but tailor it as to size and color and type of wood. Goebel says the e-commerce buying experience will be equal to that of shopping retail in a showroom.
It’s been a long road for Goebel to finally manufacture a quality, American-made line of furniture and it just feels right for him to be doing it in his hometown of St. Louis.
“One of the nice parts about St. Louis is that the metro area is about 3 million people and that’s probably a 100-mile radius from St. Louis,” Goebel said. “Putting out a product to that is now applicable to this much larger audience and I don’t need to go that far. I don’t need to go to Australia or France to sell my product line.
“There is a lot of major manufacturing and workflow people here in St. Louis and the cost of living is not high. It is unique and is the geographic center of the country. I can get a truck to New York in 12 hours or I can get a truck to L.A. in just under two days.
“I think there is a lot of opportunity here. I could be wrong, but my thought is always you don’t know until you put it out there.”