A Rich Legacy of Quality Furniture and Casework

Manhattan Cabinetry has spent the last 30 years building top-notch furniture for space-strapped residents of New York City.

By Ann Gurley Rogers
Manhattan Cabinetry

Long Island City, NY


Year Founded: 1976

Employees: 50

Shop Size: 42,000 sq. ft.

FYI: Having started its early years doing a lot of work in plastic laminates, the company today is being asked to supply more work in exotic veneers.

Michael Koullias keeps an advertising flyer dating from the late 1970s handy to remind him just how far his company, Manhattan Cabinetry, has come in the past thirty years. The flyer promises the customer that "you will get exactly what you want." At that time, Koullias could make and deliver a platform bed for just $99. This ad announces Manhattan Cabinetry as a business that does custom furniture and Formica work.

By walking around the Long Island City manufacturing plant and showroom, it is possible to get a capsule history of the company and the styles that have been popular in the years since its inception. "When we were first getting started, we were known as 'mica city' until about 1987. At that time, traditional furniture became more popular," Koullias says.

"During the 1990s, we got a lot of requests for furniture made in the Biedermeier style," he continues. "We still get some requests for it. However, today, Shaker and traditional furniture are the strongest, and there are many customers who are interested in exotic veneers." Having historic references to its previous work in the showroom most likely inspires requests for contemporary versions of the classic styles.

Anything - and Lots of Murphys

The company remains open to anything; its motto is, "If you can imagine it, we can build it." However, from the beginning, Manhattan Cabinetry especially cultivated the market for custom casework for Murphy beds and panel beds, all one-of-a-kind. They

continue to be popular.

"In New York City, because space is at a premium, we have lots of customers using Murphy and panel beds in master bedrooms and, of course, for studio apartments," Koullias says.

This traditional-style Murphy bed and casework are mahogany.

That market kept growing, thanks in part to an early Murphy bed customer, who chastised Koullias for being difficult to find. As a result, he took out an ad in The New York Times, increasing his advertising budget by a considerable amount.

"It cost me $1,200 for a 2-inch by 5-inch ad, but the sales in Murphy beds really took off after that time," Koullias says.

Manhattan Cabinetry continues to advertise in The New York Times, as well as in the metro section of Architectural Digest and in New York magazine. The company's successful marketing, coupled with its reputation for building quality products, has attracted some hard-hitting corporate clients, including Citibank, CNN and Fox news stations. Sportscaster Dick Ebersol had his executive office furnished by Manhattan Cabinetry.

The majority of Manhattan Cabinetry's business is Murphy beds and entertainment centers. "These days, what is hot with regard to entertainment centers are ones that are built to accommodate the larger-sized plasma TVs," Koullias says. The rest of the company's work is a mix of kitchen cabinets, custom baths and radiator covers. The latter can include a built-in desk, another feature that is welcome in space-conscious New York City.

The company also gets an occasional request for a custom closet, Koullias says. "When a customer comes to us for a custom closet, it truly is a high-end product. Otherwise people go to the franchise closet companies."

Attention to Details in Construction and Design

Attention to detail has been the defining factor in building Manhattan Cabinetry into a company that earns between $5 and $6 million annually. One of its trademark practices has been to make a template for any built-in piece of furniture it does.

"The first thing that we do when we are building something that will be attached to a wall, is to go to the site and trace the wall and the floor so we can be aware of all the irregularities. That way the finished piece will fit like a glove," Koullias says.

Additionally, it is the company's practice to assemble a piece three times. The purpose for the first assembly is to make certain that all of the components fit properly. Then it is taken apart and finished. The last time that it is put together is when it is being installed on site.

Home offices are another popular feature in New York City residences, such as this built-in unit in double-washed rift-cut oak.

Another detail that Koullias mentions with pride is a Manhattan Cabinetry Murphy bed design featuring pocket doors. He also points out that their casework for Murphy beds has adjustable headboards, which are engineered to help prevent a pillow from dropping over the end.

Koullias brings a strong work ethic to his company. He started his own work life at the young age of seven in Greece, selling all kinds of items on the streets, including pastries, bread, nuts and ice cream. When he was 12, he acquired a wagon and started a moving company. He came to the United States when he was 27 and first worked for a company called New York Unpainted Furniture. Then, in 1976, he started Manhattan Cabinetry. It is a family business - his brother John is co-owner, a niece works full-time as the company's bookkeeper and his son works for the company part-time.

The company's 50 employees seem to feel at home working in the 42,000-square-foot shop. There is a mixture of cultures: When a visitor walks in the door, the first thing he hears is lively Latin music playing at a generous volume. As he walks from one work station to the next, the style of music shifts to Greek.

Manhattan Cabinetry's most recent equipment purchases were an Ott press and a Midwest Automation hot press, both of which were purchased in response to a growing demand for veneer work. Other equipment includes Delta and Powermatic table saws, Holz-Her 1408 edgebander, Prolan DR45 planer, Invitca T1-14 shaper, Buffering Classic sander and drill presses from Grass and Ridgid.

Today, many customers are asking for exotic veneers. One example is this entertainment center, featuring Macassar ebony. It has black granite tops, bi-fold doors and a high-buff polyester finish.

In addition to the manufacturing facility and showroom in Long Island City, there are two retail showrooms in Manhattan, one on East 59th Street and the other on Park Avenue South. Eric Heim, the manager for the retail showroom on East 59th, says that at any given time, there are three designers to help customers with their needs. The designers typically visit the customer's home and take measurements, too.

"Some customers come into the showroom knowing exactly what they want. Others are there to seek inspiration from the pieces on display and from the portfolio books that showcase one-of-a-kind pieces that our company has created for other customers," Heim says. The company also has a Web site, www.manhattancabinetry.com, which is another source of inspiration for potential customers.

Koullias has a keen eye for staying ahead of the times, as well as a sense of what it takes to make a quality product. He follows a "recipe" for success:

"Building quality custom furniture and casework is just like cooking," he says. "In cooking, it is important to use fresh ingredients in order to have a tasty dish. With furniture, you need to start with well-trained designers and then place their creations along with the best woods, veneers and hardware in the hands of top-notch craftsmen." The result is a "dish" the company is proud of.



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