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Henkel Harris defines fine furniture for me

Jerry Epperson An insider’s viewJerry Epperson An insider’s view
Growing up in Southside Virginia, we knew several furniture manufacturers' names because of their factories nearby - Bassett, Lea and Lane, to mention the closest. When I was 10, we moved to a larger home and the former owners left a few pieces of fine furniture that would not fit in their new home in Florida. One piece, my mother's favorite, had been made by another Virginia company, Henkel Harris.
     When I graduated from William & Mary with my M.B.A., I joined a stockbroker in Richmond. Visiting the partners' homes, all lovely, expensive places, I heard the name Henkel Harris often mentioned with great pride.
     Of course, with Colonial Williamsburg only 45 miles away and a huge influence on the capital of the Confederacy, American traditional furniture was almost mandatory, and dark wood was absolutely required. In nicer homes, 18th century furniture was preferred, while in more average homes and apartments you could decorate with anything as long as it was early American or colonial in style. (How long has it been since you heard those words?)
     The furniture was not the only thing influenced by Williamsburg and colonial Virginia. The architecture of the vast majority of the residences, the colors outside and inside the homes, and even the gardens and yards also reflected this influence.
     As a result, the local furniture stores sold lines like Bassett's Virginia Colony, Thomasville's Collector's Cherry, American Drew's Cherry Grove and, of course, furniture from the specialty manufacturers of 18th century like Kindel, Statton, Sumter Cabinet, Biggs, Kittinger and, the local favorite, Henkel Harris.
     I was fortunate enough to meet Mary Henkel in the early 1970s, and she was a delight. She and my wife became friends and would correspond and talk occasionally. Mary called to congratulate us when our daughter was born in 1976, and sent a lovely present. We would visit at markets, industry events and occasionally in Winchester, Va., where the company is based.
     Seeing that Henkel Harris was closing, hopefully on a temporary basis, was like hearing of a death in the family. This is not just a company that pushed out large quantities of case goods; it made furnishings meant to be treasured for generations.
     Everyone in our industry can discuss the impact of the lengthy recession, the lower priced imports, the changes in American tastes in style and function, the decline in the number of retailers serving "the carriage trade" and the other factors that affected Henkel Harris.
     I have many memories of a wonderful family friend, a line of furniture made with pride, and visits to its elegant showroom.
     As I did often, on my last visit to the Henkel Harris showroom, I told friends Bill Henkel and Cole Whitt that "I hope I can afford your furniture when I grow up."

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