Milwaukee-based Scathain has garnered a reputation for its custom interior furnishings – such as antique mirrors, silver-plated wood tiles and patinated bar tops – visible at many of the city’s high-profile venues, including Fiserv Forum and the soon-to-open Trade Milwaukee hotel, as well as in the homes of some celebrities. But after nearly 15 years of producing pieces to the specifications of clients, the design-build firm is leaving its own mark.
Scathain recently launched its first residential furniture line, featuring dining tables, chairs, mirror frames and consoles, all available for purchase through its website. The line will debut at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City, May 21-23.
“I’ve always felt that the essence of our work deserves that place where people can look at it and say, ‘Ah yes, that’s a Scathain,’” said owner John McWilliam, who founded the company in 2008.
Ever since Scathain started making custom furnishings, McWilliams would always view each piece as a prototype that could one day be replicated.
“Along the way, it seemed like it would be a good business plan to repeat and not have to redesign and not have to figure out how to make (each piece), so more of a sustainable business plan really seemed like a great idea,” he said.
Ultimately, the goal is to scale the line to 80% of the business, with custom work making up the remaining 20%. That won’t happen overnight. Just moving the concept from the ideation to execution stage took several attempts, usually taking a backseat to Scathain’s bread-and-butter custom projects.
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The “Spandrel” table, shown in white oak with natural finish, starts at $8,420.[/caption]
But last year, McWilliam enlisted head designer Tim Stoelting to get the ball rolling, and after purchasing a booth for the 2023 International Contemporary Furniture Fair, there was no turning back.
“That really lit the fire, everywhere,” said Stoelting. “Our dates suddenly became extremely close. … (The fair) was our finish line from the beginning. If we’re going to do this thing, we have to make a really big splash.”
Leading up to the launch, Scathain’s three-person design team spent six months researching trends and gleaning inspiration from the company’s years-long portfolio of custom work to determine what elements make up a “Scathain” piece of furniture. Throughout the planning process, the design team held regular workshops in which any staff member could weigh in and voice their opinions on the forthcoming line.
“We had to field an insane amount of data, some extremely opinionated and some indifferent,” said Stoelting. “We had to pull details from that to try and find a common ground to develop the Scathain identity and this direction.”
Working to find a balance between “function, fabrication and aesthetic,” said Stoelting, the design team was sometimes sent back to the drawing board.
“There were some pieces we designed that our metal fabricator looked at and goes, ‘This is impossible to make,’” he said.
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The “Notches” mirror frame. Starts at $2,340.[/caption]
As much as the new furniture line is about standardizing Scathain’s signature design, the element of customization is still at play. Items are available in various sizes and in five different wood species or stains. Customers looking for a more specific look can choose from an additional two dozen different iterations of each stain.
“And if none of those are to your liking, we can develop something completely unique to that, too,” said Stoelting.
For comparison, McWilliam, who has a background in music as a recording and performing artist, pointed to the work of iconic guitar manufacturer Gibson Brands.
“You can buy a standard Les Paul or standard SG, but the real connoisseurs will go to Gibson and have something either bought from their custom shop or have it custom made. There’s a big market for that,” he said.
McWilliam has high hopes for the launch of the line, especially as what will be the company’s first-ever major marketing push (word of mouth has always been its primary driver of business). Riding that wave, he expects gross sales to double in the next year to year and a half.
And with the anticipated influx of business, the company has room to grow, both in terms of staffing and physical space. Currently, Scathain has around 30 employees at its 40,000-square-foot shop at 422 S. 4th St. in Walker’s Point.
“There’s a pretty long line of people that would like to work at Scathain, so we can open the doors and hire, we can grow within the space that we have,” he said, adding the company has plans to increase its physical footprint.
“We’re pretty well poised to just explode,” he said. “It’s not without a lot of work, though.”