Mike Elkins: Furniture-building, team-building
It’s springtime and Industrial Park Drive in Boothbay is buzzing with activity. Nestled between the docks and floats being built and transported from Fuller Marine Services to their resting places in Boothbay Harbor for the summer, and the wood pellet factory a little further down the road, there’s a furniture manufacturing facility putting out some pretty upscale products.
Elkins & Co. Inc., owned by Mike Elkins, produces furniture that will be shipped to high-end furniture companies and design firms up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
Elkins started working with wood when he was in seventh grade in his hometown of Midlothean, Virginia. He took a shop class in high school and went on to apprentice with a German cabinetmaker for seven years. Then he opened his own shop in Waldoboro in 1997. In 2000, he moved his business to Boothbay.
Elkins said that in 2009, during the recession, the high-end furniture business took a blow. Around that time, he learned Coastal Shipping in Boothbay Harbor was for sale. “When I heard that the owner was selling, I was thinking, ‘Oh no. What are we going to do now?’” He needed that service, and believed it was a good thing for the community. He also knew he should have some retail presence in town, and decided to purchase the business. “The two businesses just went together.”
Elkins & Co. furniture, mostly sold out-of-state, is made from American hardwoods such as oak and poplar, but mahogany, teak and some exotic veneers like black limba are also used, depending on what the client wants. Most of the furniture — bed frames, chests of drawers, tables, chandeliers and more — is sold unfinished. During the interview, Elkins pointed to one of the chests made of unfinished textured wood that will have a finish applied by the buyer. “Silver paint will be rubbed into the grain, then a stain on top of that, and several glazes. The finishes can be very complicated, and they'll add a lot of depth and interest to the piece.”
The company employs seven woodworkers. Christian Bassett has been apprenticing with Elkins for a little over a year, and he was clearly pleased with a garden table he had just finished. “I'm darn proud of that table,” he said. “This is the first piece I've gotten such a feeling of pride over. There's a lot that goes into a project like this.”
“It's a nice accomplishment to see a guy come in and get to the point where he can make this table for us,” Elkins said. “It’s a success — for him, and for us.
“We’re building furniture here, but in a lot of ways it's about building a team in the community. When we can hire experienced woodworkers and, of course, we love to have that opportunity, but a lot of times the people we find are interested in learning, and personality and how they fit in with the team is really the first thing we look for in an apprentice.”
Aside from furniture, Elkins & Co. builds products and components for five or six other Maine companies, and sells hardwood lumber and cherry and maple sheet wood to local designers and builders, and to architects and interior decorators through design and finishing companies.
Some of Elkins’ furniture can be seen at his workshop in the Coastal Shipping office at 14 Todd Avenue in Boothbay Harbor, and at the Boston Design Center. Or visit http://www.mainecabinetmaker.com. You can also see photos of the products through Twitter. Call 207-633-5515 or 207-633-0109 for more information.