meet the makers | May 30, 2024 |
Why this 30-year-old New York furniture brand doesn’t do mass production

Long before Timothée Chalamet and Zendaya made Dune a household name, there was Dune the bespoke furniture brand. Founded in 1996 by Richard Shemtov, the New Jersey–based company is known for creating custom pieces for any space. “With us, if you buy a sofa and you want 88 and a quarter inches, that’s what you’ll get,” he tells Business of Home. “It personalizes the process of interior design and allows you to create an environment that reflects the personality of the [people inside it].”

Richard Shemtov
Richard ShemtovVincent Dilio

Shemtov entered the furniture world by opening a trade resource center in NoHo in 1991 (one of the first retail spaces in what was then a virtually vacant neighborhood) that would reupholster pieces and make slipcovers. He then decided to go into furniture production and moved into a warehouse in Brooklyn’s Dumbo area, crafting custom furniture pieces for local designers and nightclubs (like the famous Roxy and Palladium). He loved being a maker, so he started Dune and launched its first collection at ICFF in 1998, then went on to win the fair’s Best New Design award two years later. He now operates out of a 75,000-square-foot workshop in Jersey City with 52 full-time artisans on staff and a street-level showroom at the New York Design Center.

Whereas many companies aim to broaden their reach, Shemtov has gone in another direction. “Instead of trying to move the company toward mass production, we went backward and decided we wanted to continue to be a maker and make prototypes,” he says. The company doesn’t work with retail anymore, but designers and clients can visit its showroom or website to order pieces.

The Moussy sofa inside the Dune warehouse
The Moussy sofa inside the Dune warehouseCourtesy of Dune

Since its inception, Dune has stayed true to the values of offering American-made, bespoke custom furniture, but what sets it apart is its vertical integration. “We do all the different furniture-making industries within one facility—upholstery, metal fabrication, a whole finishing department, millwork and carpentry,” says the founder and CEO. “Clients don’t have to go to three or four different shops to make a bed with metal, fabric and wood.”

Shemtov is involved in every step of the design process, beginning with shop drawings and ending with finishes—one of his favorite parts. (One of the company’s veneers is made up of hard-boiled eggshells that are broken into small pieces and then applied one by one to the surface, after which background color is applied between the cracks and ground down to create a satin finish.) “When you think about creating something, you always have to think about processes: ‘How do I take this idea and actually get it built?’” he says. “Maybe there was a chair that you saw—it’s a vintage chair, but you just have a photograph of it. That’s what we specialize in: working with clients to create something really special, one-of-a-kind.”

Why this 30-year-old New York furniture brand doesn’t do mass production
A custom sofa clad in burnt orange upholstery Courtesy of Dune

And those singular pieces can stand the test of time. A few weeks ago, a client came in who’d bought a sofa 20 years ago and wanted it reupholstered—something that happens often. “[Our clients] appreciate the quality, and they don’t want to get rid of [the pieces],” he says. “It’s the opposite mentality of disposable-furniture production of companies today, where they have containers and containers of furniture, and they don’t sell it. Guess what? It ends up in a landfill.” If a client does want an entirely new sofa, Dune will pick up the old one and make sure it gets recycled and reused properly.

Thirty years in, the company is still releasing new collections every year and has no intention of stopping anytime soon. “I had thought [success] meant having showrooms all over the world—not anymore, though. As you get older, you realize what’s important, and it’s not fame,” says Shemtov. “The most important thing is when I hear how happy clients are with our projects. I prefer to work on fewer projects and more interesting projects with the most talented people, like Steven Gambrel and Studio Mellone. When you have these top designers and tastemakers in the world still wanting the things that you create, it means you’re doing something right.”

To learn more about Richard Shemtov and Dune, check out their website and Instagram.

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