Back from the Brink

Founded in 1830, Clore furniture in Madison was facing the end. Their customers had other ideas.

(Photography by Jeffrey Gleason)

When the Great Recession slowed orders to a trickle in 2016, Clore Furniture president Troy Coppage was forced to make a heartbreaking decision. 

His company’s handmade hardwood tables, dressers, chairs, and four-poster beds weren’t selling. After nearly 200 years, his family’s fine, artisanal furniture company would have to close.  

Coppage, now 55, met with Clore’s 20 or so employees. He told his father and four generations of cousins, uncles, and great-uncles they would have to sell the 40,000-square-foot factory in Madison along with the farmhouse that his great-great-grandfather, E.A. Clore, built around 1900.

“We knew it was coming, but everyone still started crying,” says Coppage’s wife Karen, Clore’s marketing coordinator. She made the announcement on the company’s Facebook page and went home to mourn.

Touching Lives, Making Memories

(Photography by Jeffrey Gleason)

But by sunrise, the post had gone viral. Karen sifted through the comments, emails, and voicemails from across the country in disbelief. Then a line of customers formed at the showroom door. 

“It took a minute to comprehend what was happening,” Karen says, recalling the morning that changed everything for Clore. These buyers weren’t returning customers. They were the next generation: people who’d grown up around their parents’ Clore furniture, or pieces handed down by grandparents and great-grandparents. Now, they wanted some of their own—before it was too late.

Clore soon booked a year-plus worth of orders. And with that, all thoughts of closing evaporated.

“It was amazing to hear stories about all the lives this company has touched,” says Troy. The experience reminded him of why he took up the family business in the first place. “I wanted to be part of that tradition. I wanted to give people something special that would last for generations.”

Preserving Craftsmanship

Clore is one of the South’s oldest and finest furniture makers, says James Dye, president of the Artisans Center of Virginia. The company’s hardwood furniture is made by hand using techniques passed down from family members since 1830. Their craftsmanship, says Dye, is “beautiful, durable, and impeccable.”

Visiting the Clore factory and showroom is like stepping back in time. You won’t see stylish displays, just long rooms with whitewashed walls and heart-pine floors lined with rows of what look to be 19th-century antiques. Yet the rolltop desks, kitchen tables, rocking chairs, dressers, clocks—and more—are all new.

Touring the factory explains the discrepancy. It’s divided into a series of small workshops: Sanding and shaping; soaking and bending; assembly; finishing and polishing. Hand implements abound. There are few power tools and not a single computer in sight.

Furniture is crafted from premium kiln-dried or air-seasoned hardwood. Some mahogany is imported, but locally harvested oak, maple, walnut, cherry, and poplar is preferred. Each piece is meticulously shaped by hand, and constructed using time-honored techniques like mortise and tenon or dovetail joints. Finishes are hand-rubbed.

“It takes longer to do it this way,” says Billy Coppage, Troy’s father, who specializes in decorative carving. “But it’s the right way.”

(Photography by Jeffrey Gleason)

An Accidental Career

Troy was named company president when Billy “retired” to the workshop in 2009. He’d started at Clore at age 13 to earn extra cash, picking up the family craft bit by bit. He never planned on making it a career. “I’d be sweeping up sawdust and Grandad would pull me aside to show me how to do something,” says Troy. One week they’d sand a tabletop. The next, they’d learn about varnishes. 

“It became clear,” says Troy, “that what we were doing wasn’t normal.” Most modern furniture was made of composite woods, mass-produced using computerized technology, and engineered to fall apart. Artisan apprenticeship models had essentially vanished from the furniture business.

In a throwaway society, Clore insisted on upholding its artisanal lineage, with an emphasis on utility and topnotch quality. “I respected that,” Troy says. “It was something very special, something you could go home at the end of the day and feel proud of.” 

Keeping the Story Alive

(Photography by Jeffrey Gleason)

Since the company’s 2016 revival, demand for Clore products has remained strong. James Monroe’s Highland has ordered custom reproduction furniture from Clore. And when Dean Maupin, chef-owner of Charlottesville’s C&O Restaurant, discovered Clore in 2017, he ordered 100 chairs and more than a dozen tables. “They’re so simple and elegant,” he says, “and the craftsmanship is remarkable.”

The success inspired Troy and his family to build a new website and add an online store. They hired new apprentices, built partnerships with sustainable lumber companies, and made small updates to their product line. New offerings include a more contemporary line of bedroom furniture, just released, and popular items like TV stands and cutting boards, ideal for gifting. 

“We’re experimenting with ways to apply our traditional techniques to products that will appeal to more people, including millennials,” says Troy.

The goal is to diversify and ensure the survival of the company’s ethos for generations to come.

Troy thinks of Clore Furniture as an ongoing story. The narrative begins with his own family’s dedication and loving craftsmanship. Then, through a lifetime of use, customers transform their pieces into priceless heirlooms. Says Troy, “I want to do everything I can to make sure that story continues long after I’m gone.”  

(Photography by Jeffrey Gleason)

This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue.

June 11, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum