Trees and Furniture

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

This philosophical argument has solicited responses such as, “Although the tree’s kinetic energy will be partly transferred into vibrations in the air, commonly known as sound waves, sound only occurs when these waves come into contact with a sensitive membrane like one’s ear-drum and then interpreted by a brain as “sound.” Therefore, no sound is created unless it is interpreted by a human or animal.” – Steve Fitzpatrick, London, UK

Or perhaps, this comment from Jack Hill of St Albans, England, “Of course it does. The idea that a member of the human race has to be present at any occurrence for it to be true is quite ludicrous. Sounds are being created all over the world which are never heard by humans and as a final straw there are supersonic sounds which are beyond the range of the human but can be heard by other creatures such as bats.”

To make this quandary more personal – If we are unaware of someone’s suffering, does it exist? Or how about – If an old man who no one else alive has ever heard of dies, has he died? To the world, that existence is non-existent so his death has no effect, in a way of speaking. Does a non-existent life hold meaning?

My answer to these queries is YES! A tree makes a sound when it falls whether I or anyone else is there to hear it… of course someone suffers and exists whether I, regardless of my egocentrism, am aware of it or not. I firmly believe there is much to be said for being true to yourself and making good decisions, helping and respecting the dignity of others, performing your job and daily tasks to the best of your ability whether or not anyone is watching or taking note. You know the adage – dance like no one is watching – to enjoy it and forget the limitations of other’s expectations.

WHAT does this have to do with building furniture? It is the very basis of our company, of our product. Most of what we do – from our 8-way hand-tied seat suspension that we firmly believe is the strongest and best foundation to support you and your family to the decisions that our leather markers make as they encounter each hide of genuine top grain leather – is never seen by anyone. You cannot see inside that seat and you cannot see the scars and uneven leather colorations that are avoided and blended into a beautiful covering, ultimately ending up on our cutting room floor. You cannot see them – and many customers and retailers tell us that it doesn’t even matter what’s inside a leather sofa if it affects the price – but we do it anyway.

It is a matter of philosophical ethics – we build our leather furniture to last for many years if the leather is cared for appropriately. For that reason, we always start with a solid hardwood frame. The bottom is reinforced with extremely strong polyproylene to which 8 gauge steel springs are clenched. These springs are tied in 8 different directions with Ludlow 100% nylon spring-up twine and secured by nails into the hardwood frame. The outermost edge of the springs is secured with an edgewire that surrounds the entire seating system, enlisting the help of neighboring springs to support the weight of the user. “United we stand, divided we fall.” As a final step, we staple steel strapping in a criss-cross method under each row of springs as extra insurance that the polypropylene platform does not tear through the bottom. A layer of needlepunched woven polypropylene fabric, commonly referred to as FLW sheaths the top of our springs. FLW is an insulating fabric which is soft yet durable. Our upholsterer then adds layers of cotton for softness and covers with the final top grain leather seat, combined with denim fabric under the seat cushions.

An 8-way hand-tied seat suspension works together to provide better support under your seat cushions – the left side supports the middle that supports the right. You don’t end up with a sagging pocket under the seat where Grandpa sits to watch Monday night football every week as could occur with a No-Sag or sinuous spring seat. With that construction, every spring is on its own with no help from the others. A sinuous spring seat is cheaper – the labor to install is quicker, it requires a lower skill set, and it allows the manufacturer to use a cheaper grade of lumber to construct their frames. Another popular alternative seat suspension is to use rubber webbing in the seats – again – cheaper, less skilled labor AND materials. The support under the seat cushions is more like a platform. How long do you think this rubber webbing is going to last in comparison to a seat with steel springs offering support? Not sure, but McKinley Leather offers a Ten Year Warranty on our springs and a Lifetime Warranty on our frames. We know that we have built the best foundation for you and your family – we did it and it will serve you well, whether you know all about it or not. We don’t do it because we might “get caught” if we didn’t, we don’t do it because of all the glory and acclaim we get for building furniture this way. We do it because we are proud of our work and know that it’s the right way to craft a piece of furniture for you and your family.

A retail friend says that their customers don’t care how their sofa’s foundation is built as long as it looks good, sits well and fits their budget. I disagree. I think one would care if they knew the difference. Although we would never be so lofty as to compare McKinley’s production standards to the value of human existence as alluded at the beginning of this blog, we still thought you should know the parts of us that cannot be seen. Just in case an eardrum really is required to validate sound. We believe that beauty is only great when matched by what is inside.

Don’t Forget Your Earrings


Don’t Forget Your Earrings…

I am as guilty as anyone, (maybe more so) of forgetting to put on the finishing touches, to go the extra mile to convey the concept behind a piece of furniture – in essence forgetting to put on my earrings.  But consider how much a new outfit is affected when you add the appropriate accessories – shoes, earrings or scarf.  It’s downright amazing.  Taking that thought a step further – consider how much that basic black dress can be transformed by those same accessories.  Start out with flats for walking or pumps for the office with a scarf around your neck; then slip into a strappy pair of slings for evening, take off that scarf and don a glittery necklace and earrings. (If you have never planned like this, then you have not traveled by airline recently – sorry for that!) Of course you could just depend on your natural beauty and a fresh coat of lipstick to carry you through the night; it might just work, but most of us need some extra help. 

 I can’t leave out the men here – consider how much your tie choice or one of those gorgeous color shirts changes a basic black suit or navy sport coat.  Omigosh – let’s talk men’s shoes – have men’s shoes (and socks, just ask your 13-year old) not taken on a fashion statement in recent years?  Your shoe choice, even your watch choice is a direct reflection of your sense of style and self!  Your fashion accessories show your sense of flair, at the least, but truly embody YOUR personality.

 McKinley Leather has been in business for 24 years and I have just come to the realization that it’s not enough to build a high quality, functional and beautiful piece of furniture.  We pay painstaking attention to detail as we plan various styles and sizes within our line of furniture – we offer some smaller-scale styles, then jump to the other side of the fence to go larger-scale.  We even give our customers the opportunity to change our sizes in the event they have something else in mind.  We plan traditional, transitional, contemporary and rustic styles and offer an array of leather colors, price points and textures – all while keeping comfort, quality and value in mind.

 With all the planning that goes into product development and High Point market introductions, the message gets lost once it goes to retail.  Many times I don’t think the customer even understands what they have bought, much less all the options that they have to adapt and customize for the end user.  I realize that our message is being lost.

 What message?  Our commitment to domestic production?  Our commitment to quality?  Our commitment to fashion?  No – our commitment is about YOU, to providing what our customers want and need.

 Industry-wide, we have to do a better job of communicating our individual messages to our customers.  There have been numerous debates on brick-and- mortar (I hate that label, it just sounds so “cold and impersonal” – let’s change that to Boutique Retailers vs. virtual stores.  Today’s customer has so little time to shop, but truly needs inspiration from Home Furnishing Professionals.  Retailers and interior designers have a unique opportunity to share their vision with customers walking in their door.  Affluent customers are looking for help projecting their personal sense of style and self.  Don’t make them adapt to a cookie-cutter style, go out on a limb for them and show them something different in your Boutique. 

 I’m hoping that my recent epiphany (I’m a slow learner) will enable us to help our dealers bring our products to life.  In our High Point showroom, we have separated our vignettes into 4 lifestyle categories that I recently saw identified in Gifts & Decorative Accessories  July 2013 publication:  New Traditional, Modern, Vintage/Eclectic Global & Rustic Chic.  Various furniture styles cross into almost any of these categories – it just depends on our “earring” selections – possibly the leather color selection, the leg selection, the nail head trim or accessories surrounding the furniture.

 Here’s a Sneak Peek:

 New Traditional style combines classic styling with new trendy accessories or embellishments.  Classic looks are married to current styles; perhaps by a fresh coloration on easily recognizable period furniture.

 Blog -260-30 cocktail ottoman in Hemingway Bottle with Cosmo Pomegranate contrast border-set #5                blog-260-1324 sofa in Fitzgerald Plum with Monogram Graphite pillows - set #4             





Modern style is reflected in clean lines and minimalist looks with few embellishments.  Simple, stylish looks make an impact, possibly through color.  Keep it simple.

 Blog-260-231 chair in Summit Kiwi with HIP Mondrian-Neutral nail head trim-set #15 Blog 260 2295-3L & 2295-RAFP sectional

Vintage/Eclectic/Global is the look for a well-traveled individual, furnished with treasures from different time periods and places from around the world.  It offers a home with a story to tell, while personality and quirkiness abound.

 Blog 260 - 262 J Neal Kalahari chair - frontBlog 260 - 262 J Neal Kalahari back    




Blog 560 - 3278 daybed in Garbo Blanc

Rustic Chic can be described as refined, almost modern; yet earthy and organic.  It is intended for the customer who wants cozy comfort without giving up style.

 Blog 260 - 263-W Western JBlog 260-55 recliner front in Kruger Reserve Peat with contrasting outside arms & back   





Blog 560 - 2134 sofa 2131 chair and 2130 ottoman in Irving Redwood-set #12

Identifying and portraying the look you want to project is as simple as choosing your earrings or tie.  You start by selecting a quality piece of furniture (McKinley Leather of course!), one that will last for generations, one that will hold your family, one that will support your active lifestyle.   Then you add those personal touches – most of them can be changed as your taste and style change.  Then,

 Surround yourself with what you love:
    whether it’s family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever…

Your home is your refuge.

Not sure which earrings or tie to select?  We hope that our High Point Showroom will help you Discover Your Own Look. 

Or… Give us a call, we’ll help you decide!

Variations in Leathers

Why does the leather on your sofa look different than the swatch at my retail store? This is one of the most common concerns but the most obvious outcome on a natural product like leather. The inherent beauty in leather lies in that each hide is unique, from head-to-heel.

There are three major areas to expect variations – one is completely natural and the other two are a combination of natural and chemical processes.

First, the surface grain will vary. Our hides come from cows, that have been slaughtered for food. Unless the original cell structure has been altered, there will be areas of tight, smooth grain and areas of looser, more pebbly grain. Each hide carries unique range markings, like healed scars, sores, bug and tick bites; it is affected by its surrounding climate and its own size and body structure. Our samples are a snapshot of only one portion. Our “Leather Descriptions” document within our “Leathers” subsection shows the intended overall effect of each of our leather patterns as it should appear on your leather furniture, once upholstered. This information should help you when making a leather selection. On the other hand, you should expect the unexpected, leather variations guarantee its authenticity.

You will also find variations in color. Leather is dyed by either using top-coating pigment dyes or penetrating aniline dyes. Individual pigment dyes can vary as they are mixed, but tanners and leather finishers also try to achieve more natural effects by combining and/or layering two to three contrasting colorations. Similar to a faux painting treatment, the artisan rubbing the color will get a slightly different color each time. With the penetrating aniline dyes, the color absorption will be affected by each hide’s cell structure. The center of a hide is its backbone; it has been subjected to the most sun, wind and temperature changes which make it thicker and tougher – it will not absorb as much color. The outer perimeter comes from the belly of the cow; it tends to be thinner, softer and stretchier which allows it to absorb more color. McKinley Leather’s craftspeople try to balance the color variations throughout your furniture for the most visually pleasing final effect.

The amount of sheen on your leather’s surface is the final variable. Sheen levels can vary due to the many processes that hides undergo to achieve the final intended fashion look but also due to their individual cell structure. A small viscosity variation from the chemical supplier can be greatly magnified by a heavier application. Further, a heavier surface grain will allow more of the lacquer to hang up on the surface and to reflect back the shine. You will also notice that a leather’s sheen changes (the shine usually dulls out) when you pull a leather swatch taut. This change is greatly pronounced when the leather is upholstered. If a leather swatch has been handled a lot at a retail store, then your leather furniture will appear more shiny and pristine. Keep in mind that over the years your leather furniture will soften and change, building up a rich patina that can only be achieved with use.

So, how are you supposed to pick a leather from a swatch that is only 5″ x 7″ – especially with so many possible variations? First, we recommend that you read our “Leather Descriptions” posted within the “Leathers” tab. This document can also be found within our Catalog Binder, at your local retailer’s showroom. We also recommend that you request a current cutting for approval. We will gladly hand select hides for your furniture, put it on reserve for 15 days, and send you a cutting of this leather for your approval prior to beginning production. Since all of McKinley Leather’s furniture is produced right here in North Carolina, our lead times are a quick two to three weeks from your confirmed purchase order.

It’s a Buyer’s Market

I keep hearing it again and again – it’s a buyer’s market. . . We have been encouraged to contribute weekly to a 401K, an IRA, any available savings vehicle, but now we are afraid to open these same monthly statements. Some have lost up to 50% of their portfolio. As the April 15th tax-deferred contribution deadline nears, we ask “Who can we trust? Where can we grow or even just preserve our assets?”

I recently had a candid conversation with my banker and we HAD THE SAME CONCERNS. We both decided that we were going to spend that money. Not on frivolous things, but on updating our homes, buying investment worthy furniture, replacing windows with a more energy-efficient version, replacing our carpet – FINALLY!

If you have the cash, then now is the time to buy. Our leather suppliers have excess inventory, McKinley Leather and most other furniture manufacturers have excess production capability and most stores have excess inventory. The end result is the best pricing in a decade. At least you can enjoy the benefits of that investment – every time you come home from a stressful day of trying to make ends meet.

Is Quality a Virtue?

“Virtue” by definition is a quality held to be of great moral value. “Quality” is defined by Webster as grade, degree of excellence. So do we, as consumers, hold high quality in high regard? The answer is resoundingly “Yes!” . . . if the price is right. Recent consumer surveys show that we found quality more important than “the right price” in 2008, but that price has overtaken quality as more important in 2009.

Do we, as craftsmen, deem high quality attainable? Funny, how we tend to expect more of others than of ourselves. When you tie a bow and don’t get it quite right, you just fluff it up and send it on. If you pick up a package pre-wrapped and see a bow that is askew, then you comment on the poor workmanship.

Now try telling a craftsman that his quality is questionable – you may as well tell him his Mama is ugly. To a craftsman, quality is close to integrity. You aren’t as likely to lie, cheat, steal if you think you are going to get caught. So then the burden of ensuring consistent high quality lies with top management. They have to constantly be looking and correcting – kindly, gently. It’s hard. . . and expensive. Not just using higher grade materials, but fixing the mistakes and healing egos.

As for me? I definitely think quality is important. Here at McKinley Leather, we strive to meet the highest standards possible. Yet, it is one of the hardest and most expensive things in production to control. We start with quality components that are sold by dependable and reputable suppliers, but you have to keep a careful eye because there are always a small amount of rejects. Thankfully, our suppliers work with us to help troubleshoot and resolve problems.

We work at figuring out how to make the best possible products at the leanest price available. We avoid the vantage point of trying to figure out what we can remove from our products to achieve a target price.

The end result? Not the most extravagant products on the market. But hopefully some of the best values out there. (Value, by the way, increased in importance during 2009!)

Brown is a Color…

A good friend of mine recently lamented her futile attempts to control her weight. Her heart was in the right place – gym every morning at 5 a.m., but she just couldn’t pass up good food…or wine… Her husband consoled her by saying, “But, Honey, round is a shape!”

So I ask you – brown IS a color – isn’t it?

Over the past twenty years, the leathers used for upholstered furniture have changed greatly. The original dyes were pigments and offered smooth seamless coverage. But then the world class tanners started using the more natural aniline dyes that penetrate into the hide. In my last blog post (was it really that long ago???) I outlined several possible variations in leather, much of them due to this transition in dyestuffs.

So why do I go into it again? I think our switch to more natural looks precipitated our current sea of brown. The tones of brown – red brown, green brown, dark brown, rawhide and caramel – all lend themselves perfectly to the rich, lustrous patina of leather. As a leather groupie, each new brown brought on fresh Oohs and Ahs, with thoughts of chocolate, freshly roasted coffee beans, newly turned earth.

Unfortunately, enough became enough – it is hard for your eyes to adjust to the different hues when you look through a swatch set of 5″ x 7″ pieces, much less through a furniture showroom filled with brown.

Thankfully, those “world class tanners” got the picture and they started developing some colors on our leathers again. Our new leather colors should be reaching sales floors over the next several months and you will be surprised (in a good way!!) by what you see – lemony creams, plum, aubergine, light blue and azure. These colors are not the same “in your face” stark colors of the past – they are actually liveable – and warm – and salt of the earth stuff.

It’s tough out there in the real world, our homes are our safe haven. They should allow us to escape the stress and create our own little piece of heaven. Color accomplishes these things without us even knowing it; there are volumes of material about colors and the emotions they evoke.

Here is a list that I created from some of that material:

Blue – Calm & serenity – the ultimate escape color, blue skies, the ocean, need I say more??

Yellow – Sunshine & warmth – yellows attract the eye and get your attention – you don’t think they make “Caution” tape in yellow for no reason, do you?

Red – Strength, passion, sensuality – excites our senses

Orange – Joyful, stimulating, passion & adventurous

Green – Calming, refreshing, action, prosperity

Violet/Purple – Mystery, richness & refinement

White – Clean, purity, blank slate

Grey – Safe, balanced

Brown – Warm, secure & comfortable

So – yes, Brown is a color and it probably supports the nurturing we have needed over the past several years. But it is time to grow up and sprout – let’s add some color to our world and show our zest for life!