First-time mom-to-be Carrie Wilkins was excited when she first started shopping for baby furniture. Then she noticed an obstacle or two. The price tags, for starters. Plus, she couldn’t seem to locate pieces with the ideal dimensions or with options that would be most useful to her.
“I had not found a changing table anywhere that was what I wanted,” says Wilkins, a neighborhood resident. “Nothing was quite the right size for that wall, and I wanted a bi-level piece.”
Then one of Wilkins’ best friends, Laurie Buford, suggested a unique solution: Have the nursery furniture custom-made by neighborhood craftsman Dale Smith.
“I think it was a friend of a friend of a friend of hers that first heard of him,” laughs Wilkins, who found the word-of-mouth referral to be the answer to her dilemma.
“I’d seen all the living room furniture she had made, and she told me about how he could adapt existing designs. Then when I met Dale, he also told me that he designed things from scratch.”
And so it was, a scribble or two later, that Wilkins had the changing station she’d been looking for at what she says was a competitive price. Plus an armoire and toy box. And all were delivered and installed in about a month.
“He was so fast, which was so nice,” says Wilkins. “A lot of the stores were telling me three months.”
“Actually, delivery time depends on the size and complexity of the order, the time of year, and how many pieces from other customers I have in the works at once,” says Smith, a neighborhood resident who named his company The Village Greensmith as a reminder that much of his work comes from recycled wood.
A native of Glasgow, Ky. (population approximately 15,000), Smith has spent much of the past 20 years in our neighborhood, so naturally many of his long-time clients are here.
“I like the way this part of Dallas feels more like a small town,” he says.
But not every job stays neighborhood-bound, as customers move away or buy vacation homes. Smith has done everything from shipping bedroom sets (with an “island flair”) to the Bahamas for local designer Carol Martin to hauling several rooms of children’s furniture to Dayton, Ohio, for installation. He frequently, in fact, goes the extra mile for loyal clients, those with whom he has established a good working friendship.
“The tiny details I appreciated – like he brought over all the different kinds of feet and knobs I could choose from,” Wilkins says. “So that I was getting what I wanted down to a ‘t’ and there was no way I wasn’t going to be happy.
“My husband is a big lover of antiques,” says Wilkins, who like her spouse, was working as a CPA before she went on maternity leave.
“And he was impressed with the quality of Dale’s work. I’m more interested in how it looks like but Kurt, you know, was opening all the doors and seeing how it was put together. He was probably the bigger critic, and he was very pleased.
“Also, Dale was really good about letting us design things and then…kind of tells you when his expert opinion needs to overrule you. He thought of things I never would have – plus he’s just such a nice, nice guy. You feel like you’ve know him forever.”
Part of Smith’s easygoing reputation may be a result of having a job he likes.
“I started doing this kind of work as a kid,” he says. “I know it sounds kind of Tiny Tim-ish, but I would build things for myself that we couldn’t afford. I learned to like taking old parts or scraps and making them useful again.”
Later in life, when Smith went into remodeling, the old habits began to reassert themselves.
“I would go into a customer’s house to remodel the kitchen, and we would tear out a neat old cabinet. So I would turn it into a bookcase or an armoire.”
Soon, Smith noticed he was making more money creating furniture than remodeling – and with fewer headaches – even when customizing pieces to exact specifications.
The Village Greensmith portfolio includes bedroom furniture such as armoires, dressers and nightstands; entertainment centers; coffee, soda and end tables; shelves and office furniture; baby and children’s furniture; and specialty items such as kitchen built-ins with the look of freestanding furniture. Smith specializes in mission, country and rustic styles, but has ventured into other genres as customers have requested.
And his efforts are beginning to get noticed. Last spring, one of his beds was featured in a Better Home & Gardens magazine article on then neighborhood designer Maryneil Dance, resulting in orders for the beds nationwide.
“I don’t mind building furniture for delivery to other parts of the country,” Smith says. “But I would rather stay closer to home so I can have more direct contact with the user and help create a piece that is unique for that customer.”
Smith designs his furniture in recycled pine, as much as possible, with a fair amount in maple or ash.
“I avoid oak,” he says. “I think it’s overused in the unfinished furniture market. But if a customer wants a specific kind of wood, I will use it.
“I’ve heard the customer’s always right,” he smiles ruefully.
One aspect of the business Smith does miss now that he’s busy is designing pieces on speculation “so that someone could find something I created in a small store, and see it an art piece as much as functional piece, and want it because there is not another one.”
But even in a commission versus creativity scenario, individuality endures: “I still give them a piece made just for them.”