is an art that has yielded to less costly mass
production, but New World technology is providing one
Old World craftsman his American dream.
Byrne, owner and founder of Byrne Custom Woodworking in
Lenexa, began learning his craft as a 14-year-old boy in
his native Ireland. Byrne immigrated to the United
States with his wife, Kathy Quinn, who is a Kansas City
native, in 1987.
business has come a long way since he started making
cabinets from a friend's garage with borrowed tools in
1989. He still makes custom cabinets, but he also
fashions plantation shutters, mantels, molding and even
replicas of pieces from photographs that clients bring
percent of his business is high-end custom residential
woodwork, 30 percent is plantation shutters and the
remaining 20 percent is for commercial clients, such as
2005 were about $1 million. Byrne's 2006 plan forecasts
50 percent growth in plantation shutter sales and a 20
percent increase in residential custom woodworking.
Commercial sales are expected to remain about the same.
who also plays in a Celtic rock band, The Elders, said
he has a global perspective on his business. "When I
left Ireland, there was a 26 percent unemployment rate,"
Byrne said. "It's really no wonder that most of the rest
of the world wants to come and live here."
Byrne's first challenges was to determine how much more
Americans would pay for quality custom woodwork.
don't mind paying additional for quality product," said
moved his business from his friend's garage and
eventually landed in a 4,000-square-foot building in the
West Bottoms but he found that it was labor intensive to
move furniture from floor to floor during the building
and finishing process.
a former supplier offered him 30,000 square feet of
office and shop space in the Meritex Underground Complex
facility came with some advanced woodworking equipment
and a forklift, which would help Byrne's craftsmen
increase productivity, but he had some reservations
about moving his 12 employees underground. "I had worked
in all kinds of shops in Ireland, even some that were
outside that had no roof. I wanted it heated and
air-conditioned and cozy," said Byrne.
found the ventilation system to be state of the art and
the previous company had outfitted the space with bright
lights. The temperature stays a comfortable 68 degrees
skipped ahead with his business plan by four years and
funded a $250,000 capital investment into automated
equipment that replicates Old World techniques. The new
technology helps Byrne's employees use their skills to
measure cuts without mistakes.
said his business grew by 20 percent last year.
finishing shop is still housed in the West Bottoms.
Before moving that part of the business underground, the
company has to cut another ventilation shaft 65 feet
into the ceiling to meet air standard requirements
required when paint and varnish is being used.
to be able to relocate the shop and the remaining
full-time employee to the Lenexa facility this year.