Meet Our Partners: Leland Thomasset
Leland Thomasset is a dairy farm expat, woodworking and engineering fanatic, and creative design expert. Fittingly, he is also Baru’s design and manufacturing engineer.
At the first opportunity Thomasset traded his family’s farm in Maine for carpentry work in New York. “I hated the cows but I loved the machinery,” he explains. Thomasset began his woodworking career as a cabinet maker of a small shop. He later apprenticed under renowned sculpture and crafter Wendell Castle, participated in numerous gallery shows, became president of the Cabinet Makers Association, and launched Taghkanic Woodworking, LLC.
Two years ago, Baru founder and CEO Tino Go approached Thomasset about his reimagining of the furniture buying (and making) process. “We joke that Tino had been stalking me across several events,” Thomasset remarks. “The first couple times he approached me I thought ‘What the hell is this guy talking about?’.” But after seeing a demo of Baru’s ordering app and the potential for real change and innovation, he was hooked.
The idea of being able to take that technology and meld it with his woodworking design background within a new manufacturing process was too good an opportunity to pass.
Baru’s manufacturing model relies on the use of idle machinery in workshops. Professional, dedicated small manufacturers across the country have already invested in the machinery and software needed for a more automated production line.
“Now here’s the shocking part,” Thomasset explains, “I’ve owned [my automated CNC manufacturing machine] for 13 years. I’ve used it about 2,000 hours which is just one full 40-hour-a-week-year.” So out of those 13 years of ownership, his CNC machine was idle for 12 years.
So while these machines frequently prove to be good--if not great--investments, they’re often left idle or unused for a majority of the time. That massive amount of unused time can now be utilized to make custom Baru orders. The widespread availability of idle automated machines allows for a much wider area of operations. And incorporating machinery also ensures a higher level of accuracy and precision. Pieces can be made local to the customer, to the exact specification they need, and by local craftsmen.
Keeping It Local
Aside from being a more budget-friendly and sustainable process, working with local manufacturers like Thomasset also means that Baru can pivot designs and offerings very quickly.
In a more traditional manufacturing model (mass producing pieces overseas), the turnaround time for any one design is incredibly long. You have a sawyer that goes out into the woods with a logging truck. They select a beautiful tree then cut it up into razor thin panels to be shipped to a manufacturer on the other side of the world. And according to Thomasset, that “treatment or wood panel processing usually results in inferior product quality.” Not to mention the cost of shipping everything back and forth. You could easily end up with 8-9,000 miles on these pieces of furniture--likely already with some wear and tear--before it even gets to the store or warehouse. So if a traditional manufacturing company wanted to test a new design, it would take months just to finish a prototype. Any unwanted furniture pieces (because no company wants to spend tens of thousands of dollars shipping the materials for just one desk or side table) are then left stocked in warehouses.
But now, instead of overseas manufacturing, Baru uses local carpenters to get new designs out in a fraction of the time and cost. And instead of massive inventories, Baru makes everything to order. All this translates to faster, cheaper custom pieces.
Currently, Baru’s furniture style is predominantly postmodern. The reason being that it has a broad range of appeal and the look lends itself well to more rectangular, linear-type designs local workshops and manufacturing centers can easily construct without needing additional machinery.
For the moment, that means staying away from curves and overly complicated designs. But Thomasset, whose portfolio of gallery work contains zero straight lines, is hoping to change that.
Another ambition of his: creating more universal, multi-purpose furniture--pieces that work well for both city apartment dwellers looking to economize space, and open floor plan residents that need to divide their rooms while adding storage.
Thomasset designed one such piece for an electronics show in January 2020. It was a walnut sideboard similar to this desk-console media center with wireless charging on the counter and built-in mini speakers (round magnets that created sound through vibration). The piece had drawers for storage and full spectrum lighting for entertaining. And because it had no bottom, you could open the center doors and pull up a chair to work at the counter, or even attach a TV monitor to its built-in lift.
A sound and media station, working desk, bonus storage, and sideboard buffet all in one single piece of furniture.
“What keeps it exciting,” Thomasset says, “is watching [this model] get passed on to other manufacturing partners across the country.”
Adopting and embracing new technology like this is always an exciting venture. He sees endless opportunity for Baru to grow, maybe even beyond furniture manufacturing. Afterall, so much of modern manufacturing systems are run by a similar form of automated 3D printing. The possibilities, therefore, are really only limited by the industry’s imagination.
We might begin a line of “smart” furniture--pieces with wireless charging and internet capabilities. Maybe we expand operations to include more recycled materials or avant-garde designs.
For now at least, it’s clear the model works. And Thomasset pronounces Baru a win-win-win. Consumers have a selection of affordable custom furniture; Local manufacturers can profit off of their machinery’s idle time, and the sustainably sourced materials and reduced shipping distance help protect our environment.
“There’s zero downside to it.”