Support Local: Grove & Anchor
February 28, 2017
When we think of furniture, it’s easy to overlook them as random objects that we use everyday. The creamy white poplar-wooded desk we spend hours slumped over penning our 2017 New Year resolutions. The mahogany Brazilian pine dining table we adorn in cutlery, secret family recipes and laughter. Rarely do we realize the moments we make surrounded by these pieces, nor the ingenuity it takes in making them.
Maker and Grove + Anchor owner, Robert Cortes spends weeks in his Ft. Lauderdale studio understanding the purpose, the look and the feel of one of his handcrafted pieces in the customer’s living space. The result: a seamless piece of wood furniture that in its subtly, makes a statement. I talked with Cortes about finding your niche, woodworking and family legacy.
I noticed that your area code is from New York. What borough are you from?
I’m originally from Queens, but I moved down here in 2006 when I was 19. I was here four years [just] thinking about what I wanted to do with life. My father was a furniture designer and custom furniture finisher for 40 years, and thought it would be really cool to finish my father’s work and legacy. So I found a trade school in Brooklyn, was there for a year and half to two years studying design, graphic design and woodshop. I came back to Florida temporarily but then moved to Kansas City where I worked for a small furniture company. I was the first employee there but in two years we went from a small house converted into a shop, to a 12,000 sq. ft. warehouse with eight or nine employees churning out work.
So you’ve been doing this work since the beginning?
Yeah, I used to spend a lot time with my father at his shop. You know, when you’re little you don’t pay a lot of attention to the things [or] realize that you’re absorbing information that shapes you. The coolest thing is, I found my path.
It’s interesting because we never want to follow our parents’ path or join the family business. We want to do our own thing, but it’s the thing that bonds us when you follow it.
It’s funny you say that because I remember that my father’s favorite thing to do was to visit antique stores, antique shops and furniture galleries. He used to drag me as a kid, and I kind of hated it. And now, where I am with my life this is exactly what I like to do. Visit the galleries and antiques.
So what inspires you?
Building a business around the furniture that I make. I really enjoy not only creating things but also the reaction from customers when I finish their product and I get an email saying, “this is amazing,” “thank you so much,” [and] “this is exactly what I had in mind and you really made it come to life.” That kind of gratitude is really cool and it inspires me to keep going, and keep building on top of that.
How would you describe you design aesthetic?
The overall design and aesthetic that I focus on is industrial modern and midcentury modern inspired. I like the contrast and combination of working with the wood and metal. It ties in with the name of Grove + Anchor stand for. Grove meaning a grove of trees, the source that wood comes from. Anchor is usually made from steel, and is tied into the material that I use, but anchor basically symbolizes the fundamentals of fastening furniture by hand.
When I look at your pieces there, something makes me sit back and think about it. You have to consciously think about how does this fit in my living space.
Exactly. You’re right. And that’s the customizing of all this. Sometimes a customer wants something and I’ll ask them to send a picture of their space. And I’ll look at their place and suggest something for them that would best fit; giving them a suggestion of a piece that would work perfectly for them. If you had a traditional living room and you threw in one of my industrial modern tables in there it’s going to stand out. It’s not going to look good. I want to make sure that whatever piece I make is made specifically for that person.
So with your background in design and wood making, how do the two come together?
Sometimes I design something crazy, and I not a pen and paper kind of person. I have the idea in my mind and I just go with it. No measurements, I just go for it. I think about where I picture this: is it in this type of living room? or this bedroom? I go with what the ultimate end result will be. I don’t know, I don’t overthink it in that sense. I just go with the flow. The most important thing is making a flawless product. Though I [do] have a corner, hidden, of failed products.
With wood being so unforgivable, why did you decide to work with that material?
It’s so beautiful. Wood is complex. They come from different regions; they’re kind of like humans in that sense. We’re all the same species, but we’re all different and vary from person to person. Same thing goes with wood. That’s what makes each piece unique. The less deep answer: a lot of furniture companies out there are only working with laminate plywood. I’m just trying to create affordable items that are in my opinion nice designs, using quality material.
Why is it important to support local?
Anyone can get what I’m making from a factory overseas or a big market store but what makes me special is my story. I’m not just a giant corporation. I’m just one guy in a 400 sq. ft. shop making anywhere between four to seven pieces of furniture a week, every week. I’m constantly engaging with every customer that I have, whether it’s email, text or phone call. I kind of make it personal, something you’re not going to get from a big warehouse. Same thing goes for many other businesses. I think that having a personal connection with the person you’re buying from is really cool. It’s not everyday you go into Walmart and [say], “oh, that’s the shampoo that Frank makes. Frank is cool, I’m buying that shampoo.” But at the same time it’s not for everybody. My pieces take up to four to six weeks to complete, from the day you order to the day it ships. A lot of people don’t want to wait that long, and I totally understand. But I’m here for the people that want something personal. The ones who want to connect with a story.
What would you tell to someone who is thinking about starting their own business?
I don’t like to preach this kind of stuff because I can only speak from my experience and what worked for me. But before I started my business, I reached out to a woodworker and furniture designer out of California that I followed on Instagram that makes high-end stuff. He’s amazing. I messaged him asking him if he would you give me some tips on starting a furniture business. And one of the things he said that stuck out to me was, “don’t do it unless you can’t NOT do it. Like, only do it if there’s absolutely nothing else that will make you happy… because it’ll take that kind of dedication to weather the tough times.”
Learn more about Grove + Anchor here.
This is a piece in our series spotlighting small businesses part of our Support Local initiative.