Furniture maker finds perfection in wood’s imperfection

Photo By Mantra Inspired Furniture

Commercial furniture designer and manufacturer Mantra Inspired Furniture (Mantra IF) is committed to creating sustainable, American made, investment-grade furniture. What also sets this Virginia-based company apart from many competitors is its business and manufacturing philosophy.

Mantra IF was founded in 2018 by Susan Pilato, principal of Norfolk-based PC&A Business Environments, after the company that had manufactured much of its solid wood furniture went out of business. Pilato’s interior solutions firm already had contacts within the Amish artisan community, which made the decision to manage the product manufacture as well as the design an easy one.

Mantra Inspired Furniture
Susan Pilato is founder of Mantra Inspired Furniture, a WBE and SWaM business.

Inspiration behind the name
The company’s name is inspired by eight simple codes or “mantras” that Pilato’s late father, John Clayborne Compton, Jr., passed down to her, and which are also the guiding principals behind PC&A:

  1. Do it now.
  2. Organization and appearance
  3. Be cheerful and optimistic.
  4. Moderation
  5. Say something nice to everyone you meet.
  6. Drive carefully.
  7. Keep on trying.
  8. Enthusiasm

As Pilato related, she and PC&A Environments partner Donna Counts “were trying to come up with a name [for the line of furniture] and it came to me: We’ve lived by these mantras, we’ve used them as the principal of our business. What if we call it Mantra? And then Donna finished it out by saying Inspired Furniture because it’s inspired by the mantras.”

She added, “Since launching Mantra Inspired Furniture as an alternative for the architecture and design community in 2018, we have carved out a niche in creating quality solid wood furniture, made for designers by designers. We wanted to become a quiet disrupter in this industry, supported by our years working within the design community.”

Mantra Inspired Furniture
The Clayborne Collection of hardwood desking and casegoods features dovetail joint details, a steel leg frame and mitered frame design.

Mantra IF is a certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) and a Small, Women-owned, and Minority-owned Business (SWaM). Mantra IF collaborates with designers and architects to furnish its product line across Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, New York, and Indiana. Used in corporate, healthcare, hospitality, and other environments, the furniture is made from sustainable solid wood, meshed with steel. Three collections are available in the line, with more underway:

  • Named after Pilato’s father, the Clayborne Collection pairs natural materials with a clean design. It includes desking and casegoods and features dovetail joint details and a steel leg frame foundation. The solid wood construction allows for a mitered frame design and the look of 2-inch thickness in the top and sides.
  • Named for Counts’ mother, the Lowe Loop Collection of tables, desks and benching systems “personifies the contrast of strength and softness,” with features that include routed edges meshed with a steel frame.
  • The Ellis Collection, named for Pilato’s mother, includes desks, benching systems and tables. The company says the collection “conveys confidence through the firm handshake of wood matched with the decisiveness of steel. It leaves an authoritative impression while maintaining an open and approachable personality.”

“We have developed a product line that responds to the needs of the market, rather than us telling the market what they should purchase,” Pilato said.

Mantra Inspired Furniture
Characteristic of the Ellis Collection, this benching desk showcases how the wood forms a firm “handshake” with the steel legs. It is available in a variety of hardwoods and finishes.

The company’s designs focus on the beauty of solid wood, where even so-called imperfections such as knots and irregular grains, are considered “perfection because Mother Nature made it that way,” she added.

Mantra IF’s experience as a design company also gives it a unique insight that a typical manufacturer might not have. “Our mind is constantly thinking, what if we do that, so what if we try this? And the more we learn about how wood works, or steel, what the limitations as well as what the abilities are, it helps us produce what can work. We’ve got some things we’re thinking about, and we’re working on prototypes right now to bring out for NeoCon,” she added.

Mantra Inspired Furniture
Shown above, the Lowe Loop Collection showcases "the contrast of strength and softness." This is highlighted in the C-table by the pairing of wood with the industrial steel base.

Manufacturing & sustainability
Furniture design and sales are handled in-house by Mantra IF, with the fabrication done by Amish artisan mills in Ohio.

“It’s truly the American story,” Pilato explained. “It’s almost a cottage industry that forms a manufacturing plant.”

Typically, four or five Amish shops, each with its own specialty such as dovetailing or finishing, are involved in the production process. “It depends on what we’re doing. Like with a desk, we could have four different workshops working on [the order].”

“They work together seamlessly,” she added. “What’s really neat and I want people to understand is that they really use some of the highest technology that’s available, like CNC machines/routers or robotic welding arms.”

Mantra Inspired Furniture
Multiple Amish woodworking shops work jointly in the furniture production process, each with their own fabrication or finishing specialty.

The company is a member of BIFMA, the association for business and institutional furniture manufacturers, and its products are constructed to meet and/or exceed BIFMA standards for performance, durability and structural integrity.

Mantra IF also walks the talk when it comes to sustainability and an “earth to table” approach. The furniture has been certified Red List Free, which means it does not contain harmful chemicals that pollute the environment or is harmful to human health. The collections also display a Declare label, an internationally recognized “ingredients” list for products that shows where it comes from, what it is made from, and where it goes at the end of its life. “We really try to stay within our principle of longevity and reuse.”

Mantra Inspired Furniture
A combination of traditional and high-tech/CNC equipment is used by the Amish woodworking shops for the production of the contract furniture line.

Lumber is locally sourced and sustainably harvested and the company helps promote hardwood use through the Real American Hardwood Coalition. Mantra IF is also a member of Heirloom Design, a circular economy where companies invest in furniture designed to last multiple generations, across multiple companies; as well as mindful Materials Inc., an organization “dedicated to reducing and ultimately reversing the embodied impacts of the built environment through their collective material choices.”


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About the author
Karen Koenig | Editor

Karen M. Koenig has more than 30 years of experience in the woodworking industry, including visits to wood products manufacturing facilities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. As editor of special publications under the Woodworking Network brand, including the Red Book Best Practices resource guide and website, Karen’s responsibilities include writing, editing and coordinating of editorial content. She is also a contributor to FDMC and other Woodworking Network online and print media owned by CCI Media. She can be reached at [email protected]