Luke’s Furniture Co. is a Hand-Crafted Future
With Luke’s Furniture Company and a spot in BCC’s Manufacturing Incubator, Luke Cole is on a track of success in a medium that he loves.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Megan Deitz
Luke Cole is a testament to following your heart. In his case, following his heart — combined with a lot of hard work — led to becoming a successful furniture builder and business owner at 27.
As a child Cole helped his father complete various carpentry projects around the house, and he also watched and learned as his grandfather built furniture as a hobby. After meeting his wife, Alissa, Cole found himself surrounded by more woodworking enthusiasts, with her grandfather’s favorite pastime also being furniture making.
Cole started a career as an English teacher, but something else was tugging at him.
“I used to carpool with a teacher to and from work, and I remember telling her that I would love to be a furniture builder and have that simplicity of working with my hands,” Cole says.
At the time he had no tools or place to build because he was living in an apartment. So as soon as he and Alissa got a house, he started compiling tools, a few from his dad, some from Alissa’s grandfather, and started building things to furnish their home.
“So I’ve had this vision of being able to do this for a long time, and I’m now slowly making it a reality,” he says.
It wasn’t until after the birth of their daughter that Luke’s Furniture Company came to fruition. Capri was born four months early, forcing Alissa to put her own teaching career on hold to be in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit with the baby. Once Capri was allowed to come home, doctors advised against putting her into daycare for at least two more years, leading Alissa to remain at home that entire first year to care for her.
“To cover her income I started building different pieces of furniture for people out of my garage,” Cole says. “I created Luke’s Furniture Company, made my website, began a social media presence and started working just evenings and weekends.”
That business started to do so well that the next year the Coles decided that Alissa would go back to teaching and Cole would become a stay-at-home dad for a year. “It was then that I started to realize that I could run this business while staying at home and working during naptime, nights and weekends,” he says.
After two years of working out of his garage, Capri was thriving, and the couple felt comfortable sending her to daycare. In September 2016 Cole moved out of the home workshop and expanded into his current space in the Brunswick County Community College’s Leland Center as part of BCC’s Manufacturing Incubator Program. The Incubator program is designed to accelerate the development of entrepreneurs by providing services that help increase the survival rate of the businesses and grow the local economy.
Now Cole is building furniture full-time for the first time.
“Just being able to move into such a large space with the name that I already had and the social media following that I already had, it’s really allowed me to expand how much I can build,” he says.
Cole’s quick growth left him needing help, but instead of hiring a standard employee, his creativity and craftiness kicked in. He started what he calls artisan co-ops.
“I work with a few carpenters that do hardwood flooring or other types of carpentry as their day jobs, and then they come in and help me build furniture during their off times on a contract basis,” he says.
Cole also utilizes the expertise of a number of metalsmiths and upholsterers in a similar fashion, and the relationships are mutually beneficial.
“I’m able to teach them more about fine woodworking and furniture, and then they teach me the precise cuts and things that they use in their everyday jobs that I don’t commonly use in furniture, so it’s a really great setup,” Cole says.
Dining tables are Cole’s bread and butter. Two of his most popular designs are the Masonboro, a modernized version of a farmhouse table, and the Uptown, Cole’s personal favorite to build.
“[The Uptown] has a steel base that’s becoming more popular, and there are a couple of tweaks that I can make to it where it can fit into a coastal theme or it can be a little more mid-century modern,” he says. “I really just like the way the steel and the wood are able to mix. Depending on what wood I use, it can fit into so many different design themes.”
Cole’s range of work also includes coffee tables, end tables, hall tables, media consoles, headboards, footboards, bedframes and bunk beds as well as custom pieces.
“The way most of my products are set up is that on my website I have several signature styles from which people can choose their desired color and size and make some other small upgrades,” he says. “I’ll also do completely custom designs if someone wants to meet and discuss that option as well.”
What makes Cole’s work stand apart in this area is its combination of quality and affordability. His products fill a niche between lower-quality farmhouse tables that often have issues after a couple of years and high-end custom furniture. Luke’s Furniture dining tables cost anywhere from about $800 to $3,000, with the cost going to the higher end with specialty wood species.
For inspiration Cole says he works from classic designs and then takes them up a notch, sometimes with the help of his clients.
“Occasionally I’ll just have a very creative client who has a vision, and once they have that vision they can’t find it anywhere until they come to me,” Cole says.
Currently, Cole is in the process of adding more modernized pieces to his signature collection. “When I first started I did a lot of rustic elegance, a lot of coastal elegance and some industrial styles. I’m still going to offer those, but now I’m moving to more of a modern style with pieces that would fit into mid-century modern design themes,” he says.
As for the future of Luke’s Furniture Company, Cole sees himself keeping it local in an industry that has largely moved overseas. He hopes to eventually grow into a larger shop, hire full-time employees and be able to offer more high-quality furniture to the Carolinas.
“This state has such a rich history of furniture manufacturing, so I’m just honored to celebrate the heritage of North Carolina’s furniture building industry by offering unique handmade pieces at affordable prices to the people of this area,” he says.