Mr. Jeffrey J. Johnson - M.A., Master of Business Administration, 1989
The Amish touch
Local shop imports furniture from Amish craftsmen
By Kevin Opsahl, staff writer
HYDE PARK — It’s unlikely that Cache Valley residents would ever see a horse and buggy going down Main Street in Logan, or an Amish couple strolling around town. But a store tucked away in Hyde Park offers a taste of the Amish lifestyle. The store, called Amish Excellence — which opened in June — is owned by Alena and Jeff Johnson, who both work at Utah State University. It offers Amishcertified, custom furniture made from the Pennsylvania Dutch Amish, featuring items ranging from Dad’s office furniture to a child’s high-chair that can be turned into a rocking horse.
“When I saw this furniture for the first time, I thought it was gorgeous; I fell in love with it,” said Alena, who first spotted Amish furniture while in Nashville, Tenn. for a wedding. “We don’t feel like we are a furniture store like the ones that are already here. We are filling a niche. We are something different.”
The Johnsons will work with customers to custom design the furniture they need. Then, the customer will pay 50 percent down before the order is put in. After that, it usually takes three to four months for the order to be made by the Amish builders.
The Amish population — primarily found in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Ontario — are a group of Christian church fellowships that form a subgroup of the Mennonite church. They’re known for simple living, plain dress, and a reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology.
“We appreciate their devotion to God,” Alena said. “The furniture and all of the work they do is an expression of their devotion to God.”
Jeff said, “They have a real sense of community and family that all Utahns and people of all faiths can relate to.”
Amish have been known to share more of their goods with the public, like quilts and even meats and cheeses. Some Amish populations have been known to open up stores for a limited amount of time during the week, like in Maryland — and yes, embrace some technology.
“They’re not as odd as some in the media portray them,” Jeff said. “They’re different because it’s a conscious decision. They do a lot of things right; they have a sense of community and devotion, and they think a lot of what modern society values is unnecessary. They don’t get caught up in the business of our hyper-active world.”
Jeff is quick to point out how Amish furniture sets itself apart from larger manufacturers, saying “they have clever, smart things.”
The Amish incorporate a lot of “dovetailing” into their furniture work. This is where one piece of wood intersects with another, as one might notice on the corners of the inside of a single drawer.
“This makes it extra strong,” Jeff said. “Usually, people get two boards together and drive a nail into it.”
When opened out, the drawers on the cherry cabinet also slide in on a “soft close,” a feature which eliminates loud slams and hard closes.
The Amish “pay great attention to detail,” Jeff said.
For instance, the rings that are found on the wood the furniture is made of match up on a custom cherry cabinet that is in their display room; plus, the cabinet is finished all the way around — whereas most furniture companies don’t finish the back that is supposed to line up against the wall.
The furniture is made from 100 percent solid wood and has no “inferior materials,” Jeff said.
There’s another bonus to selling Amish furniture as opposed to store brand furniture: “It’s made in America, using American hardware,” Jeff said.
Tennessee is the only other place in the country where Amish Excellence, their parent company, is located, at a mall called “The Factory.” Their friend from Tennessee — a former Mennonite — ships custom orders out to Hyde Park every time an order is needed.
The Johnsons themselves were never Amish — nor do they personally know anyone who currently is — they just wanted to start a new endeavor together.
And that has come with surprises.
“It’s turned into a family business and we didn’t plan on that,” said Alena.
Their four children and one daughter-in-law will do home visits with customers to help them match up the style of furniture with the surroundings of their home.
“We love working together,” Alena said.