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Master of the Southwest Furniture Designer Dan Levinson

Author: Roberta Landman
Issue: March, 2012, Page 106
Portrait photos by Christiaan Blok

Dan Levinson


Dan Levinson Makes a Giant Leap From Upholstery to Designing High-End Furniture

MATERIAL MAN

What do Frank Lloyd Wright and Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest Dan Levinson have in common?
Furniture.

Some may not know it, but Wright (1867-1959)—celebrated for his visionary architecture—extended his genius to creating furniture, much of it to reflect qualities of his homes. Levinson, co-owner of Feathers Custom Furnishings, likewise designs custom furniture and manufactures it at the company’s Scottsdale location. His path merged with the memory of Wright recently, when he was asked to reupholster and reinvigorate furnishings of Wright’s design.

The iconic pieces are located in what had been Wright’s and wife Olgivanna’s personal living quarters at Taliesin West—the Scottsdale branch of the architecture school founded by Wright. Levinson decided to donate the services of his company in honor of the famed architect and this year’s 75th anniversary of Taliesin West. “Being selected to refurbish the furniture collection designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is extremely flattering,” Levinson says. “Designers across all fields embrace the influences of his contributions, which makes this such a tremendous endorsement of Feathers.”

A native Phoenician, Levinson has known what it takes to make a comfortable and beautiful piece of furniture practically all his life. He was born into the trade, as his grandfather and father were both in the upholstery business. “I worked there as a kid,” he recalls. “After school, I would ride my bike to the shop. I loved it.” It was not long before his own entrepreneurial and creative spirit came to the forefront. At 14, he was designing and making ski cases for the U.S. Olympic water-ski team. “By 15, I had already bought my own van and sports car,” and, “by about 21, I started an upholstery company.”

Later, in 1994, he invited a successful female designer to form a business with him that created custom furniture largely for the interior design trade. In fairy-tale fashion, the two fell in love and wed; and wife Claudia has been an integral partner in what became Feathers ever since. She named their company Feathers because, as Levinson says, “all of our cushions were filled with down and feathers. Down and feathers related to luxury and comfort.”

It was not long before Levinson decided that Feathers should be the brand name for a product that was totally theirs. One day, “I had an epiphany,” he remembers with a grin. He announced to Claudia, “Let’s go retail.”

Without professional design training, but with the knowledge of how to construct furniture from start to finish, he became head designer. It is his passion. “Whenever I create a new design, I look through books and magazines, then put them away and start drawing,” he explains. “I like to challenge myself to come up with unique designs that are my own.” One example of that uniqueness: Sofas and chairs in the glamorous 16,000-square-foot showroom have wider and deeper proportions than one usually sees. “One of the comments I get from people who come from out of state is how big the furniture is,” Levinson comments. “I always reply that the homes in the Southwest are very large, with high ceilings—that we have to fill up.”

Interior photography by Art Holeman

Upholstered in a silk damask-print fabric, this skirted occasional chair with curvaceous carved-wood arms was inspired by a Spanish-style armchair, says custom-furniture designer Dan Levinson, a Phoenix Home & Garden Master of the Southwest.
Levinson takes pride in the fact that Feathers’ pieces are crafted in Arizona. Upholstery work, often with intricate tufting, scallops and curves, takes place in spaces behind and above the elegant showroom. Wood frames and finishes are done at a nearby annex in the Scottsdale Airpark.

In 2007, a nationally known furniture manufacturer took notice of the company’s offerings. “Habersham approached me about designing and manufacturing a line of upholstery that would complement their incredible cabinetry,” Levinson says. “Since then, I’ve designed upholstery lines for several other national companies that specialized in cabinetry and wanted to add upholstery to their line.”

Feathers, with 25 employees, has added making casegoods and cabinets to its repertoire and, just recently, bedroom furniture. There will be chaises, armoires and ottomans to go in the bedrooms, notes the Master of the Southwest. “I am constantly drawing and sketching new ideas.” Bedding and draperies, a specialty, also can be made on-site. 

It is local customers—both those who drop in and those working with interior designers—that Levinson still loves to see walk through the door. “People come in with the expectation that it will be different, exciting.” Room vignettes give these potential buyers ideas and inspiration, he offers; and, when they decide to have Feathers build their furniture they can count on quality assurance, he adds. They can drop in as often as they want to during the manufacturing process for “sit tests.”

Levinson gives much of the credit for the success of Feathers to his wife, who also designs furniture and is involved in the firm’s interior design projects; and to his brother Dennis, head of production. They, along with a team of dedicated workers, have created products of heirloom quality, he reflects. “I tell our clients our pieces are meant to be handed down.”

A living room conversation grouping features furniture crafted at Levinson’s company, Feathers Custom Furnishings. The tufted-top ottoman—with a scalloped box-pleat skirt—exemplifies the firm’s stock in trade, notes Levinson. “Our look is timeless, not trendy,” he says, “with a lot of detail in our designs.”

Plump-pillowed and famously large and roomy upholstered pieces of Dan Levinson’s design invite one to sit a while in this Scottsdale home’s living room grouping. For the sake of comfort, he lowered the arms in his adaptation of the historic Knole shelter sofa. He named his version Isabella. The floral-print wood-framed chairs look as pretty in the back as the front, which is a goal of Feathers Custom Furnishings, he points out.

Top Row: Designed by Dan Levinson in the sketch at right, the romantic curlicued chaise in the above master bedroom sitting area is a flight of imagination. Napoleon’s Josephine likely would have enjoyed napping on it, or a Victorian damsel in a too-tight corset would have found it a comfy place to swoon. Variations of the design—in size, foot style, fabric, finish and carving—are available as custom options. Bottom Row:Like Levinson’s original drawing (left), this curvy and deeply tufted settee was inspired by a Neoclassical sofa. The piece is shown here with a gilded black finish on an exposed-wood frame and can be customized to a client’s exact specifications.

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