Design with an Open Mind
August 14, 2011 | 9:05 pm CDT

A team-oriented approach, attention to detail and limitless creativity give Scottsdale, AZ-based European Design its distinctive flair.

A large portion of European Design’s business is brought in by word of mouth and it has a high percentage of repeat clients.

When Allan Rosenthal founded European Design nearly 18 years ago, he had modest expectations.

“In my mind’s eye, I just thought if I had a three-man art studio and built interesting pieces, that that would be what I’d like to do,” Rosenthal says. “I had no master business plan at all.”

The company has definitely outgrown his initial expectations — although it is still building interesting pieces — with 32 employees at its 21,000-square-foot facility. Rosenthal is quick to attribute European Design’s success to a team principle.

“A team effort is so important to business,” he says. “I may be the manager, but we all work together ultimately, and I take everybody’s opinion so much to heart, because I think everybody has something to offer. I’ve learned something from people that are new hires, as well as from people who have been here for 10 years.”

Rosenthal, a third-generation woodworker, relocated to Arizona from New York after selling the company he owned there. He says that European Design filled a niche that was not being provided for in the Southwest. The company started by designing and building entertainment centers, and then eventually expanded into woodwork for full homes. European Design has consistently seen demand for its services grow each year, predominately through word of mouth and also, from a very high percentage of repeat clients.

An Entertaining Concept

Most of the entertainment centers the company manufactures are built-ins, though there are exceptions. “We have also designed and produced ones that have the ability to be taken out and turned into a free-standing piece,” says Rosenthal. “We’ve also had a customer’s veneer inventory left here, bundled with their name on it. If they call us and say, ‘We’re moving. We need the finished panels,’ we make them then.”

European Design’s entertainment centers have a number of unique features, including an elevation mechanism for the video screen.

The company designs more than 85 percent of what it builds. Rosenthal himself did the designs up until about eight years ago, but now close to 90 percent of the designing is done by General Manager Charlie Scott.

“Charlie has been able to sustain the characteristic that I think has made us what we are today, and that is, first, the originality,” says Rosenthal. “He’s always evolving, and I think that’s very important. I couldn’t think of a better person I would want in that position.”

The design process starts with meeting the customer. Rosenthal goes through the project, including budgetary items, to figure out if the project should move forward. This is followed by a visit to the customer’s home to take measurements and photos. Scott then comes up with three design concepts, which gives the client the option of looking at all three concepts and choosing elements of each that he or she desires, thus providing a very customized piece.

“We pride ourselves on that,” says Rosenthal. “People are hiring us for our individuality, and they want to make sure they aren’t going to see the same thing in someone else’s home.”
After the design is approved and materials are selected, the company visits the customer’s home once again to double-check field dimensions for accuracy. If they are correct, the building of the project begins.

This chest top was routed on the company’s Biesse Rover 322 CNC machining center.

Getting Creative with Technology

European Design presently uses AutoCAD and is in the process of introducing Microvellum software as a layer that works hand-in-hand with AutoCAD. “I was speechless when I saw it work,” Rosenthal says. “It’s so custom-specific, I just think it’s going to change the way that we do a lot of things.”

The company recently purchased a Biesse Rover A 3.40 FTK3 CNC machining center for the purpose of putting its old workhorse Biesse Rover 322 CNC machining center into semi-retirement.

“We’ve had that machine for 10 years, and within that time, its been down only three times,” Rosenthal says. “I decided we’re going to retire it for now. When we get into bigger orders, we’re going to run two machines.”

European Design has been known to get creative with the methods it uses to operate its CNC machine. “We’ve been able to really push the envelope on what they can do,” says Rosenthal. “I think that a CNC machine is only as good as the people operating it, and pushing it to what it can potentially do. We’ve been able to do a lot of things that I don’t think other people have thought of.”

The company is detail-oriented, laying up all its own veneers. All of its products feature veneers with a waterfall grain-match. The process for achieving this can be tricky, as Rosenthal explains.

“After we press these veneers and they’re all grain matched, we actually figure out in CAD where to rout a 45-degree miter,” he says. “We use packing tape to hold these pieces together, so when we rout it on the CNC machine upside down, it routs the miters where they are. It just kisses the veneer on the bottom. We squirt glue into the miters and fold it over. The packing tape acts as a clamp, and it actually has a little bit of flexibility in it too. As we fold it over, it squirts the glue out of the 45-degree angles, and then as the veneer returns from the top of the shelf to the leading edge of the shelf, it is grain-matched with the door directly underneath it, so you get a perfect grain-match all the way down the front of the piece.”

The company has eight full-time installers and does not outsource any installations. “With the level of complexity in what we build, and knowing how cautious they have to be with a project, it would be very difficult to hire an outside source for installation,” says Rosenthal.

After installation, European Design always sends out someone to do final touch-ups at the end of the project. “If there’s something wrong and a client doesn’t pick it up, it doesn’t mean it won’t be fixed,” Rosenthal says. “We’ll fix it because we know it’s there.”

Just Be Yourself

Rosenthal is not forecasting any major changes in the near future, preferring to keep European Design on its own path and continuing to offer unique products.

“We don’t normally follow trends,” he says. “We have never looked at what other people are doing. Never. We’ve always just done what we think should be done. We’ve had people copy us. I don’t get angry about it anymore because I feel like we’re past that and are already on to a different phase. I love what I do. I couldn’t think of anything I’d want to do differently. You spend so much time at work, it’s important that you love what you do.”

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