D.R. Dimes & Co, maker of early American furniture, has returned to life

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 07-20-2023 5:43 PM

You can’t keep a good chair-maker down, it seems.

Four and a half years after D.R. Dimes & Co. folded under the weight of changing public tastes, closing the Northwood custom-furniture business that over 54 years had made chairs for Independence Hall, the Smithsonian and Sturbridge Village among others, the company is back.

Douglas P. Dimes, 57, who started working alongside his father Douglas R. Dimes after college, has relaunched the firm’s website and built a studio alongside his Pittsfield home, where he is making and selling chairs, benches and tables.

The senior Douglas Dimes, who died in 2022, started the business in a small shop in Epping and over time, aided by the 1976 Bicentennial that boosted interest in early American furniture, expanded it to 40 employees and sales of $3.6 million. Its Northwood factory built as many as 6,000 Windsor chairs a year at peak and made many other types of early American furniture, from simple end tables to elegant bed frames, rocking chairs to big fluted desks. They sold to museums and stores and companies and had high-profile orders, such as a half-million dollars from Phillips Exeter Academy to build the school’s special Harkness instruction tables, or $350,000 to build replicas of the 101 desks in the U.S. Senate for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston.

D.R. Dimes & Co. thrived on sales to home-owners, through shops like the long-departed Colonial Corner in Concord and directly to consumers. But tastes change and sales began to slip as Baby Boomers aged and stopped new furniture, a problem compounded by the 2008 recession.

Attempts to branch out into mid-century modern and other styles didn’t work – the brand association with early American was too strong – and in 2018 the company shut down, auctioning off its inventory and equipment and closing the Northwood factory.

“I did enormously well at the auction, but I kind of wallowed in my misery for about four months” after that, recalled Douglas Dimes, 57. But after deciding that a lifetime as an independent furniture maker means he wouldn’t thrive as anybody’s employee, “I decided I wanted to make Windsor chairs again.”

He scrounged and bought some used equipment, rented space in Stratford, and got to work. It was successful enough that when the retail space ran out, he decided to go it alone, building a new shop next to his Pittsfield home where he has lived since 2017.

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“A lot of friends helped; I couldn’t have done it without them. I think that’s normal; you never do anything by yourself,” he said.

As a one-man operation, output is limited but business is good, he said, both from repeat customers and people who know the D.R. Dimes & Co. name.

“I send them all over the country, almost every state in the last four years,” he said. “I sold a set of chairs today: her mother has had our chairs for 30 years and she just bought a house, and she wanted some, too.”

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