Vintage Industrial Creates Furniture with Classic Flair
Furniture Designer Greg Hankerson finds purpose in steel and wood.
By Olivia Munson | Photography by Chris Loomis
Greg Hankerson never thought he would make a living crafting custom furnishings. In fact, he came to his creative calling by chance. In 2009, the entrepreneur ran his own internet-hosting business. When his wife, Sim, needed a patio table, Hankerson wanted to ensure she had something that would stand the test of time, unlike many mass-produced pieces. Though he had no prior building experience, he already knew how to weld, so he repurposed an oak tabletop and cobbled it together with a metal base.
This initial piece was simple and rustic, but after blogging about his creation, Hankerson found himself inundated with requests for additional pieces of furniture—praise that he found unusual. In his eyes, the table needed a lot of improvement, so he set out to hone his skills and perfect the design. What started as a simple task quickly evolved into a prominent Phoenix-based company rooted in the values of quality and teamwork.
Hankerson’s path to fulfillment wasn’t always so cut and dry. “I didn’t think too much about the future,” he recalls.
As a child, he had a Dr. Seuss milestone book. While flipping through the pages, he came across a simple question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The 4-year-old asked his mother what the answer should be, and she replied, “an accountant like your father.” For 15 years, Hankerson maintained the books for his family’s investment business, but he never felt fulfilled. He wanted to find a new purpose in his life.
Turning their backyard into a design studio, Hankerson and his wife began Vintage Industrial, fabricating eye-catching furnishings inspired by the early 20th century French Industrial era, which embraced a utilitarian design highlighted by raw wood and metal hardware. From Day One, the couple sought to set their designs apart from the cookie-cutter veneer pieces that dominated the market. Hankerson scoured the internet for images of vintage architecture and found inspiration in visits to European factories and shops.
Functionality and old-fashioned charm permeate the company’s catalogue. From sit-stand crank desks, kitchen islands and media consoles to bar stools and mudroom benches, each piece is expertly crafted of American-made steel and hardwoods, such as walnut, mahogany, boxcar oak, cherry and maple. One customer was even so confident in the furniture’s heirloom-worthy characteristics that he included his Vintage Industrial desk in his will.
Business boomed, and within two years, the couple expanded operations into a 20,000-square-foot warehouse. Since then, they’ve more than tripled in size and hired a staff of 20-plus craftspeople. But even though the manufacturing process has advanced, the products’ handcrafted appearance remains.
Mikhail Gladchenko, Vintage Industrial’s research and development director, points to the popular Hure Crank Table as a prime example. When first made, its metal legs, the design of which was inspired by the elegant lathe and milling machine bases designed by late 19th-century Parisian machinist P. Hure, initially all
looked the same. Hankerson wanted to maintain this consistency, but during the fabrication process, things did not work out as planned, with subsequent pieces each taking on a unique appearance. “We don’t hide behind paint or produce a perfectly smooth piece in terms of tone or color,” Gladchenko states.
High-profile projects include the comic book store train table on the CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” train-track mounted tables at the Four Seasons in Scottsdale (which Hankerson said is one of his favorite projects), and a piece for actor Alec Baldwin.
Today, the company’s busy warehouse and manufacturing facility hums with activity. Welders’ sparks shimmer against the dark brick walls. Music piped in from overhead speakers adds to the lively atmosphere. Whether gluing together a wood desktop or hoisting a 500-pound table base, designers and builders work together in a familial atmosphere. According to Gladchenko, while each staffer is responsible for a single duty or product, collaboration levels are high—but individual input is taken into consideration. “Everybody has quite a bit of responsibility,” Gladchenko says, noting that each person has an opportunity to improve, adjust or change a design. “We all have a say.”
Although Hankerson admits to sometimes missing the simplicity of those initial days in his backyard, he is thankful for his team, and his clients, who helped the company grow and become the best it can be — especially his wife, who serves as a constant source of inspiration.
“There are all kinds of furnishings on the market,” Hankerson says. “Our motive is not to make money—quality is our legacy.”