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Tailor Made

It’s all about the details. From left to right: Each cabriole leg on this round leather-covered coffee table was hand-carved • The soft tufted cords on an armchair are perfectly matched, creating the illusion of trimmed edges. • Graceful curves, outlined in leather trim, allow this sofa to be confidently displayed in the center of a room.

A peek inside the studio of Feathers Fine Custom Furnishings reveals why it’s Master Made in Arizona.

By Rebecca L. Rhoades | Photography by Brandon Sullivan

Twenty-five years ago this month, Arizona native Dan Levinson and designer—and now wife—Claudia, joined creative forces to start a custom drapery and furnishings atelier that was targeted to the interior design community. When they first opened for business, Dan was doing the upholstery, and Claudia was sewing the pillows and draperies. Because they specialized in items filled with down, they decided to name their company Feathers, a moniker that has lived up to its lofty muse.

One day, a customer requested a sofa, and because the Levinsons’ framer wasn’t available, the couple decided to build it all themselves. “Then someone else wanted another sofa, so we started building more sofas. Pretty soon, we had to bring in a couple carpenters and woodworkers because clients were asking for cabinetry, tables and bars,” recalls Dan, a 2012 Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner. “We’d gone from being a workroom for designers to doing everything ourselves.”

Soon after that, the business evolved and expanded to include dozens of artisans who manufacture unique fine home furnishings, including everything from upholstered pieces to casegoods. In the mid-2000s, the pair moved to a large North Scottsdale showroom, which serves not only as a retail store and design studio but also as an active workshop where most of the company’s products are created.

A padded wall is the perfect foil for a comtemporary pearlized leather headboard and clean-lined nightstand. 2. Feathers has long been known for its tufted furnishings in classic shapes. For a modern update, this Portman-style headboard and bed frame is covered in a regal pewter velvet. Thousands of decorative nailheads, each individually applied by hand, complete the look. A padded wall adds depth and emphasizes the setting’s luxuriousness.

When not meeting with clients or helping deliver furniture and install interiors, Dan can be found helming a vintage industrial sewing machine in the large workspace that is situated just beyond the retail store. A hands-on owner, he arrives at the crack of dawn. Oversized tables, their undersides overflowing with stacks of fabric bolts; shelves stocked with spools of thread in every imaginable color; and boxes of, you guessed it, downy feathers, surround his sewing station. A library of more than 3,000 sample books, from which the couple gleans inspiration and clients select finishing touches, is steps away.

Across the room, on the other side of a grand stone staircase that leads to an art gallery and the drapery rooms, Ruben Maldonado transforms wood frames into luxurious upholstered chairs, sofas and even cornice boards. He has been working for the Levinsons for eight years. “I do everything from the bottom up, from putting in the springs and padding to finishing the piece with fabrics and trim,” he explains. “We use all types of textiles, including leather, silk, suede, vinyl and more.” Maldonado is just one of the company’s 22 employees, many of whom can handle most if not all of the tasks involved in creating furniture.

Having an on-site workshop only reinforces the artisanal nature of the finished product.

“It’s nice to have the workroom on-site,” says Claudia. “A client will come in, and we’ll start showing them around. After a few minutes, they’ll ask, ‘Where is this made?’ And we’ll say, “In the next room right back here.’ That’s the fun part of it. Even if someone is walking around by themselves, they’ll hear the noise, the power tools, and want to know what it is.”

Feathers’ lead interior designer Mark Watts agrees, adding, “When people hear the word ‘custom,’ they think they’ll place an order and in eight weeks see the finished product. They wonder if it’s going to be what they thought it would be and are scared that if it isn’t, they’ll be stuck with it. People who don’t really know what we do are always surprised and shocked by the back room. They’re amazed that they can stop by before their furniture is finished and do a sit test.”

Many of the products created in-house are on display in the bright, airy showroom. There’s something for every decor here, from contemporary to Southwest to traditional. Lighter colors, such as white, beige and taupe, dominate the furnishings. The pieces serve as inspiration and to highlight the many design options available. “When you put a color like red or blue on something, people can’t look past the color. They can’t see the frame,” explains Claudia.

Using the samples as starting points, the couple can then work with the customer—widening the arms, tweaking the legs, straightening the back, adding a bold color or floral pattern—to devise the perfect piece.

Hands-on owners, Dan and Claudia are often found working side-by-side with their employees. Here, Dan sews cushions while Claudia measures out fabric for a new project. Behind her are job requests from many of the Valley’s top interior designers.

A large portion of the Levinsons’ business is with interior designers, who seek out Feathers’ one-of-a-kind pieces for selective homeowners. “Although we have access to many premade furniture lines, we often need something custom,” says designer Kacie Lilley. “We may need to satisfy a client who has particular needs and tastes, deal with space limitations or want an item that simply cannot be found in a catalog.”

Recently, Lilley commissioned the company to design furnishings for an in-home theater, including a four-piece sofa that was approximately 6 feet deep—big enough for the entire family to lie down on. “The clients were able to visit the workroom and see and sit on all of the pieces prior to them being upholstered. They were able to make any changes they desired and were very pleased with the end result.”

Interior designer Tony Sutton, who had his own upholstery operation for 15 years, understands the process and complexities involved with creating custom furnishings. “It is an opportunity for the discriminating client to test the suitability and comfort of a sofa or chair as it is being made, before the fabric is put on,” explains the Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award winner. “Minor adjustments in dimensions can make a huge difference in comfort to each individual. A professional athlete will have different needs than someone who is in their senior years. Seat height, depth, pitch and firmness all contribute to a person’s experience.”

Feathers’ artisans do everything from carpentry, veneering and intricate wood carving to sewing upholstery, bedding and draperies—even stuffing pillows with fluffy down for that just-right support.

Seamstress Azucena Chavez has been working with Feathers for 15 years. “Every day and every project is different,” she says. She pulls out a pair of white draperies decorated with a delicate pearl detailing. “It took two days just to add the strip of pearls,” Chavez explains. “We had to sew this all on by hand. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. It’s rewarding to look at the pieces when they’re finished and say, ‘Wow, I made that.’”

Maldonado agrees. “It’s never boring,” he says. “Even when we reupholster items, we’ll often update them and change the style a bit. We have to make our own patterns every time, because nothing is the same.”

This expert craftsmanship and ability to execute even the most formidable projects has allowed the Levinsons and their talented team to contribute to some of the Valley’s most renowned addresses. Since 2012, Feathers has been working with the folks at Taliesin West to reupholster and reinvigorate the historic home’s furnishings and soft goods. The most recent undertaking involved replacing the aged red velvet theatrical curtains in the Music Pavilion.

“Dan and Claudia have a keen eye for design and an attention to detail that our specialized jobs demand. They take the time to work with us on matching historic fabrics, tailored to the project’s unique needs, and always produce the best quality work,” says Emily Butler, preservation manager for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, which oversees the property.

1. Upholsterer Ruben Maldonado adds the finishing touches to a padded cornice board. 2.  Seamstress Azucena Chavez hand-sews decorative elements to a set of Roman shades. 3. Dan and Chavez discuss a drapery project. 4. Alfredo Vargas assembles the frame of a bar stool with a swivel seat that will soon be upholstered in comfortable padding and sumptuous fabrics. 5. Just like they encourage their clients to do, Dan and Claudia test out the unfinished bar stool. 6. Sunlight coming through the showroom windows softly illuminates a curved sofa, finished in a rich chocolate brown velvet. Wood legs run under the frame and connect to a table that is attached to the back of piece. “You don’t see it at first,” says Claudia. “This is why, when clients come in, I like to take the time to point out what we can do.”

While the showroom may have stayed in same location for more than a decade, the look of the business has changed in recent years. What was once a red-and-gold Tuscan emporium chock-full of opulent tufted pieces complete with heavy fabrics, jewel tones and dark woods has become a chic exhibit of clean lines, luxe textiles and subdued, welcoming hues. “I’d say our look is more soft contemporary now,” says Dan.

The Levinsons take pride in the fact that all of their furnishings are crafted by hand in the Grand Canyon State. “We tried to expand our business on a national level, but we’re such a specialized company. I don’t know how you could duplicate it in other areas,” Dan says.

“We’re so proud of the fact that you can walk into these large homes in Phoenix and Scottsdale and recognize that the homeowners didn’t buy their draperies at one company and their tables at another—that we did everything,” he continues. “We’re not looking to expand or change anything. There’s no better place to do what we do. Our focus has been and will continue to be right here in Arizona.”

For more information, see Sources.

While much of the showroom is awash in soft neutrals, this contemporary vignette adds a touch of dramatic color. The charcoal-colored mottled leather-and-wool sectional, black velvet pillows and tufted linen coffee table, all made by Feathers, are ideal for a chic city loft.

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