Watson makes award-winning furniture | Bainbridge Island Review
Which Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo-related company recently won a handful of awards for their innovative furniture?
It’s elementary, my dear – Watson.
Watson Furniture launched Haven, a collection of tables and social tools designed for collaboration, at NeoCon in Chicago. Haven won four Gold Awards, and when Watson’s C9 Trolley storage solution also won Gold, which broke a 31-year record in award history.
The Haven line won for communal tables, benches, conference rooms and collaborative collections. NeoCon is the leading trade fair for commercial furniture design.
Watson designs and manufactures office furniture in Poulsbo, having debuted in BI in the 1960s. About 25 years later cabinetmaker and metallurgist Grahame Watson handed the business over to Bill Haggerty, Daniel Warn and the CEO Clif McKenzie, who runs the company, which employs around 185 local people. About 65 work in the office and 120 in the factory. It also uses local raw materials, but this is becoming increasingly difficult to do as the supply chain has shrunk due to COVID-19.
âThe pandemic has made it extremely difficult,â said Joe McKenzie, son of the CEO.
Unlike most of its competitors, Watson turns design designs and raw materials into finished products entirely under one roof at its manufacturing facility and corporate headquarters. Watson also has a studio in Seattle, but most of their clients come from their online virtual showroom.
The idea behind Haven is that it’s adaptable, transforming the workplace into a social haven for people and ideas to flourish. Haven is designed for multiple work modes and settings to meet the needs of many users and purposes. Circular shapes encourage inclusion and group decision making.
Ethan Pearl of Bainbridge Island is the lead industrial designer. He didn’t design the Haven line, but he also won awards for his designs. His passion is for design that walks lightly on the Earth.
Watson practices âpractical environmentalism,â his website says: âWe use the cleanest ingredients we can get our hands on – things that are recycled or recyclable; stuff that doesn’t give off gas toxins; stuff that lasts.
Its wood is 92% recycled, the steel is 100% recyclable and its screens are made from 100% recycled polyester fabric made from reclaimed plastic bottles.
âEvery step of our process is designed to maximize our ability to reduce, reuse and recycleâ¦ We recover and reuse powder, sawdust and water,â the website says.
Their website says Pearl is in charge of “bringing ideas to life, whether through sketches, computer modeling, or making physical prototypes by hand.” His career at Watson started as a summer school intern, helping with various tasks, most notably as a self-proclaimed âVP of Cardboard Engineeringâ due to his many cardboard prototypes.
âWith technological advancements, manufacturing is getting easier and easier. If we are not careful, this ease of production will result in an exponential increase in unnecessary things. In products that clutter our lives and waste our resources. However, good design offers another avenue. By being thoughtful and intentional, we can design products that help us live better with lessâ¦ âhe says in a quote on their website.
Son of the owner
Joe McKenzie, a son of the owner who has been there since he was 13 and has done just about all the work, said the product development team has the big picture. âWhat’s going on in the worldâ¦ They adapt the furniture to their needs. “
As you walk through their offices and the factory, the first thing you notice is how spacious and clean everything is. It’s by design. âBeing very close to people is not what’s best for you,â he said.
Describing one of the award-winning benches, McKenzie explains that there is a small divider in the middle for two people to feel comfortable using. There is also a place for a USB stick. There is a footrest and a place to hang a coat. On another piece of furniture there are lockers with a place for recycling bins in the middle and a place for plants above.
McKenzie explained how a study shows that when people are in squares, they are individualistic, but when furniture is curved, it becomes more collaborative. With the squares, companies try to crowd as many people as possible. Workers feel like someone is looking over their shoulder, he said.
But when the height of the furniture can be adjusted, moved easily, and the work areas fold up, coworkers are actually comfortable talking and won’t be looking for a meeting room, which is much more productive, a- he declared.
McKenzie said Watson makes custom furniture and can prototype it in a day. Most of its clients are in the United States and Canada.
He said that during COVID, they expanded their factory so that workers “weren’t on top of each other.” He said 86% of their employees have been vaccinated.
McKenzie said they pay their workers well and treat their workers well, so many stay for a long time. âThat way we get the talent we want. They also have monthly barbecues, bonuses, an annual Bravo Night, an espresso bar, a campus walking trail, a gym and showers, plus the regular perks of a successful business. But like everyone else, they now have vacancies – 16.
He said it was one of the few furniture companies dealing with both wood and steel and able to turn raw materials into a finished product. âWe don’t have a warehouse full of finished products,â he said, adding that everything was made to order and shipped.
He said they are very effective. A welder can do 10 different welds in a day, he said.
Despite all the fancy equipment, McKenzie said some of the work was still done by hand. âThese are people who practice their profession. They are craftsmen. ”