High-Quality Heirlooms Built to Use and Enjoy Today

A ‘monumental’ work ethic combined with the talents of master craftspeople make this Florida shop’s cabinetry a priceless family possession, today.

By Lisa Whitcomb

     
The Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild

Naples, FL

Year Founded: 1993

Employees: 70 full-time

Shop Size: 32,000 square feet

FYI: In 2002, the company began smelting its own small cast bronze medallions to be inserted into each piece of cabinetry built. The medallion includes the company’s logo along with the name of the owner who commissions the piece, the artisan’s name and the year it is built.

 
   
     

"We will do nothing less than monumental work,” says Thomas Riley, president and owner of the Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild in Naples, FL — a unique business concept that combines the talents of master cabinetmakers, wood carvers, finishing experts, metal smiths, stone workers, Venetian plasterers and others, all under one roof. “That is what makes us different.”

The idea for the Artisans’ Guild and its monumental mission statement first began in 1989, when Riley was working as a furniture refinisher with a good friend. They had begun a business partnership five years earlier, and Riley says, “He was a true craftsman, a real artist with many talents, but not one for managing a business profitably. I had more experience running a business, because I had been running my own gourmet cheese and wine shop in Naples since I had moved down from New York City in 1975.”

“I was interested in the refinishing business, so I proposed a partnership,” he adds. “I said, ‘I will come and work for nothing for one year, and if we get out of debt, we will become partners.’” The deal was accepted, and Riley lived up to his promise.

Branching Off in a New Direction

“During the next eight years of our partnership, I learned the refinishing process by stripping and applying finishes to high-end furniture, which also taught me a lot about furniture quality and details,” Riley says.

     
 
Closets are a “room environment” unto their own. This two-story dressing area features ornate gilding and inlaid patterns, as well as built-in bureaus, jewelry caches, mechanical shoe and clothes racks and more.  
     

During this time, while on refinishing sales calls, clients began to inquire regularly if Riley knew of anyone who could build cabinets. “So I went out and found a few small one- and two-man shops and started subcontracting work to them.” He says he searched for, and found, cabinetmakers with skill and culture; then he went out and actively sold cabinetry.

In addition to cabinetmakers, Riley hired whatever tradesperson he needed to get the job done, including wood carvers, faux finish experts and other artisans. “I began to take care of these people in all sorts of ways, and that was when I came up with the idea for the Artisans’ Guild. I thought if I could find and assemble a team of super- talented people and have them doing what they love best all of the time, [without having to worry about the business end of things], I would ‘hit a home run,’” he recalls.

In 1993, Riley took his talented team and branched off into his own business, letting his friend resume complete ownership of the refinishing business. “Back then, clients were not receiving value for what they were paying other shops. I decided that my focus was would be different, monumental. The Artisans’ Guild would focus on quality craftsmanship on everything from the windows in, not just the cabinetry that we built,” he says. “It was our mission statement then, and I wouldn’t change a word of it today.”

Riley credits his focus on the “monumental” to taking him out of the typical “bidding wars.” Instead, the shop focused on selling its services to clients in the top one percent income bracket. “I decided that if we made ourselves extraordinary, then people would understand [our prices]. We find the right clientele that understands why we are more expensive,” he says.

At the time, the recession was ending and people were starting to make big money again, Riley adds. A nouveau riche generation moved into Florida. “They were younger, better educated and well traveled,” he says. “They understood the difference between what we do and what a traditional production cabinetry shop does.”

   

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