Tarik Yousef, owner of T.Y. Fine Furniture, crafts high-style furnishings while rebuffing modern production practices.
"It began with mahogany," says Tarik Yousef, owner of T.Y. Fine Furniture. Wiping sweat from his brow-he's been buffing his finishing shop floor-he launches into the story of the modern American furniture industry, one of mass production, discounts and, most distressing, chemicals. "It began with mahogany," says Tarik Yousef, owner of . Wiping sweat from his brow-he's been buffing his finishing shop floor-he launches into the story of the modern American furniture industry, one of mass production, discounts and, most distressing, chemicals.
"So, 50 or 60 years ago, mahogany and rosewood and all those types of wood were highly desirable, but there was a scarcity. And people couldn't afford them," he continues. "Then some other people realized they could take some poplar and wipe some colors on it, using shellac or whatever was on hand, and get the cheap stuff to look nice. It's the reason particle board exists. It's the reason the wood-veneer industry is healthier than the solid-wood industry."
He's blunt, but it's what you can expect from a guy who doesn't cut corners. Since starting his business about 10 years ago-while studying engineering at Ohio State-Yousef has worked hard to get to the point at which he can sell home furnishings (from coffee tables to beds) he's proud to stamp with his name.
"I never really liked the process, the chemicals," he says of his polyurethane-finish beginnings. "There's not much to like, though." Yousef began using linseed oil to finish his furniture but soon realized that wasn't quite good enough, either. About four years ago, he developed his own finish made of pure, organic, food-grade oil.
"The way we finish our furniture now is totally different from most others," he says. While linseed oil features a "super-toxic" metallic component that helps it dry, Yousef uses a method that polymerizes flaxseed oil; the finish dries naturally. The process takes longer and costs more, "but, at the end of the day," Yousef says, "you have a pure, organic finish that uses an all-natural process."
As for the wood itself, Yousef uses solid cherry, walnut, maple and, occasionally, oak to craft his simple, modern furniture. "That's basically it, because I try to stick with domestic hardwoods," he says. "I don't want my woods traveling tens of thousands of miles to the shop."
Yousef recently found a way to work exotic wood into his pieces, too, by purchasing discarded lumber. "Mills will use wood to produce high-end materials and then discard a ridiculous amount of this material; we're talking truckloads," he says. "I've found some clever ways to reuse that stuff." Though still conceptual, Yousef hopes exotic hardwoods find their way into the showroom soon. "It's great, because you're getting the best of the best while still reclaiming and recycling."
Despite his remarkable triumphs in green production, 90 percent of T.Y.'s customers come for the look and feel of the furniture, he says. "But for that 10 percent who want green, organic furniture? It's a big deal to us," he adds. That's clear when you step into the Merion Village showroom; information about the process, the finishes and the materials is displayed throughout.
"I knew when I opened this is how I wanted it to go," he says. "Selling for 10 years online, it came down to how things looked. Now you can see, feel, touch, experience the furniture. And you realize there's more to it than just a 'green' slogan."
The furniture is still manufactured in Marysville, where Yousef worked as an engineer for Honda for five years while moonlighting as a furniture maker. There's about a 12-week wait time for customers eager to fill their homes with T.Y. furnishings. "We've seen a substantial change (in demand) since opening the showroom," manager Wes Miller says. Yousef recently sold a piece to a customer in Hawaii; he's now sold to all 50 states. Clearly, the desire for well-made furniture is there.
"Ninety-nine percent of furniture stores sell stained furniture. They'll take a cheap wood-or maybe not even a cheap wood-and slap a stain on it. It ends up looking like paint," Yousef says. "Then there's a clear coat filled with chemicals on top of it. By the time you go through that whole process, you essentially strip the essence of the material. And why do that? It just never made sense to me.
"Anyone who walks in here and sees the furniture, I think it becomes really obvious why they should buy this," he continues. "You can actually see the wood grain. The Stickleys of this world still exist, of course. And then there are people like us, trying to break into the market. People had kind of forgotten about the woodworking craft, and it might happen again. Just hopefully not in my lifetime."