Story by Jeff Milo
Photos by Bernie LaFramboise
SHELBY HOLTZMAN GOT HOOKED BY A DRILL. THE FERNDALE RESIDENT WASN’T RAISED TO BE A WOODSMITH OR A CARPENTER, AND YET SHE IS NOW BUILDING CREATIVE AND STYLISH HARDWOOD FURNITURE FROM HER NEW SHOP/SHOWROOM ON LIVERNOIS. You see, she fatefully needed to borrow a power tool one day several years ago and it began mounting an appreciation for creating something by hand, particularly with a flume of sawdust.
“My dad was always a fixer, and a very crafty guy,” said Holtzman. “He got me into the idea of being able to make really beautiful things even if you didn’t necessarily have the background in it. But I laugh, cuz my high school didn’t even have a shop class; I wonder how sooner I would have gotten into this had I been exposed to it more.”
Holtzman co-founded Long White Beard in 2014 with fellow creator Daniel Erickson, starting out with a studio space inside the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit. Holtzman graduated college with a degree in anthropology, and was even getting knee-deep into some archaeological works just before she and Erickson got started. But, as she said, “the hobby (woodworking) started turning into a full time gig!”
Long White Beard’s new physical Ferndale space opened in late July; a retail/workshop space distinguished by artist Erin Brott’s dazzling mural of thick white whiskers flowing across the side, adorned with small verdant green ferns, trees and friendly woodland creatures. The showroom features their various home-enhancing creations, like coffee tables, dining tables, custom designed shelving, wooden housing for entertainment centers, and, one of their most popular items, custom hardwood cutting boards.
Holtzman and Erickson saw Long White Beard’s popularity steadily build over time, from their first spot in the Russell, to where they began filling more and more orders, not just locally and across the state , but nationwide over e-commerce site Etsy.com.
Both of them approached it as something that would just grow little by little. “Yeah, we didn’t do it start-up style,” Holtzman said. “We never went to the bank to ask for a loan, or anything. I hate to say ‘grassroots,’ but really, that’s how every single thing has been done, just getting to one point, or making and selling one thing, and then getting to the next. Dan calls it ‘the ratchet!’ We’ve always been trying to grow responsibly.”
Holtzman said she loves the craft, she thrives in the creation process, but that Erickson can handle the grittier business aspects, like accounting and what-not. She knew, from the start, that this company wasn’t going to be called any variation of “Shelby Holtzman Woodworks.” In fact, she admits a lifelong uneasiness with self-promotion of any kind, because she’s always just preferred the work, the focus she finds in creating something or learning how something works. That’s why she’s always been at home either in a lab (for anthropology research) or, now, in her shop (with their three busy/loud/industrial-grade lumber saws).
Holtzman, Erickson, and their “metal shop guy” Tim Umlah, are now settled in their new spot and already filling more orders for various furniture items and home-goods cut, sanded and treated from all locally-sourced lumber. The bigger shop space allows them to start working on more hardwood; that is, substantial blocks of hardwood lumber, from oak, sycamore and ash; and it allows them to invite their customers in and see the work, rather than clicking jpegs over etsy.
he name suggests a timeless wisdom of craftiness that gets passed down over ages. “The techniques and finishings are the same; lots of the tools are the same, just with new models. The ideas behind (woodworking) are the same. But if you come in the shop, you won’t see anyone with a long white beard.”
Glowing reviews poured in from Etsy customers over their first two years, and that attention and acclaim has only built after moving to Ferndale’s veritable second-downtown strip on Livernois. Pieces can be customized to fit your needs. If you’d like to customize something for your home’s dimensions, find Long White Beard online at:
OPEN Wednesday – Saturday 12-6
860 Livernois, Ferndale, MI 48220