Landrum Wanderings: Creating furniture, creating their world

Published 10:00 pm Monday, May 8, 2017

I have an entrepreneurial spirit so I’m always interested to learn about other people who decide to create a business. Starting your own business is an exciting endeavor but can be a little scary. Today I’m headed down a tree lined, country lane to meet with Michelle and Jeff Clifton.

About six months ago they left full time jobs and started The Fairwinds Company, specializing in custom made furniture. As I drive up the long driveway, admiring the abundance of spring flowers, I find Michelle and Jeff at work in the garage, which doubles as production space.

Jeff, Michelle, Alexander and Elyse

Jeff grew up in Spartanburg, graduated from Clemson and worked for Fluor. He was offered an opportunity in California, in the San Francisco area where he met Michelle. This was home for ten years. As their family grew to include two children, they felt the stresses of working high pressure full time jobs and feeling as though there wasn’t enough time for family. 

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Jeff recalls, “One day we asked ourselves if we could create our own world, what would it look like? We dreamed about two part time jobs with more time to spend with the kids, to be involved raising them morally, spiritually, and emotionally.

We began to explore places in Oregon, Idaho, and central California. Then we discovered an opportunity back in South Carolina and decided to relocate.”

Floor to ceiling custom bookshelves

Jeff has a civil engineering background plus construction experience. He had enjoyed remodeling and building furniture, kitchen cabinets, and bookcases for their house in San Jose. Michelle’s background included sales expertise. Eventually they made the decision to start their own company, operating out of their home and garage.

Michelle explains how they make it work. “We both have our own areas of expertise. I do the cold calling, talking with interior designers, architects, and builders. Jeff designs and creates the pieces that people are asking for. We trust  each other and have confidence in each other’s abilities. And we home school the children, Alexander, age 11, and Elyse, age 9. Even the children get involved, sweeping up wood shavings and dust, plus making their own suggestions. Alexander likes to read the home improvement magazines and has come up with ideas. It’s truly a family business,” she smiles.

The love of wood began in Jeff’s family when his father Paul, owned a lumber mill in Arkansas.  He passed down his passion for woodworking to Jeff as he continued working with refinishing hardwood furniture. He taught Jeff that wood is something special.  Jeff has taken his father’s love for wood and wood working experience and brought it all together with his passion for creating handcrafted furniture. 

Michelle shows me pictures of some of the pieces Jeff has built. She explains, “Sometimes people will find a piece, like a custom headboard, or an unusual table in a magazine and they want it duplicated. A desk with a floating style top  was a challenge. Jeff was able to use both his engineering and construction skills, to produce a close facsimile to the item in the picture. This is his specialty,” Michelle says.

As an engineer, Jeff loves the design process and he enjoys the detail of crafting fine furniture. As a wood craftsman, he utilizes his engineering background along with his artistic eye to create one-of-a-kind handcrafted wood furniture pieces that are precise in size and scale, as well as in beauty.

A recent project in a home involved 10 foot high bookcases, lining the walls, floor to ceiling.

Michelle describes the shelves, “They were to be filled with books and required a special oil finish so the books will slide out and back easily. By having things custom built, that’s the type of detail, not found in mass produced items, that we can create. We cater to both residential and commercial clients.”

The scope of their work includes tables, benches, mantles, and built-ins, all crafted entirely by hand.

Michelle relates, “The process begins with a conversation. We sit down with the customer or talk over the phone to understand what they are looking for in a custom piece of furniture. Once we have a thorough understanding of what they want, our job is to sketch out the piece with scale and dimensional drawings so that we have a complete picture of the custom furniture and also provide samples of wood and finishes that will complete the project. After the design is approved, we move forward with production.” 

Once the piece is complete, shipping or delivery and installation is arranged. They deliver to local areas and ship to the continental United States.

Michelle, Jeff, Alexander, and Elyse show me the factory area and demonstrate cutting a long wood section. Everyone has a job to do to complete the project.

It’s been interesting to hear their journey from a demanding, stressful lifestyle to creating their own world and business.

If you would like to learn more about The Fairwinds Company, visit, email Michelle@TheFairwinds or phone 864-510-1181.