Test of Time: Leake Furniture Makers

Leakes Furniture Makers
Leakes Furniture Makers

Leakes Antiques is much more than an antique store; it is a “labor intensive” furniture maker’s dream where “18th century master designers inspire every day.”  John Howard Leake, Sr. was a farmer who lived a little ways south of York, SC.  Farming kept him busy, but while away doing his chores, he’d travel the countryside and do business with families who had interesting pieces of furniture and were willing to trade.  Soon Leake had acquired a great many pieces, so many that he needed a separate building to store them.  Purchasing three acres north of his farm, he and his son, John Howard Leake, Jr. went to work and built a building that would house their antique shop.

The doors to the shop officially opened around 1956.  Leake, Sr. and his wife Zoe ran the business. Living in the country brought a variety of antique lovers.  Some came for the conversation, while others came to browse and buy.  It wasn’t too soon after opening the shop that the Leakes’ decided to move from the farm and live on the premises.  By 1965, Leake’s son was working full time. The shop expanded to two additional buildings, and ever since, the business prospered.

 

Today, Leake Antiques and Furniture Makers is represented by

John Howard Leake III and his son John Howard Leake IV
John Howard Leake III and his son John Howard Leake IV

(better known as Jay).  “Jay represents the 4th generation in our family to operate here,” says John.  “My main goal is to help him keep it going another 30 years and into the 5th generation.”  As a shop teacher in the Gaston County Schools, John Leake III was passionate about his work, but after six years, he decided to leave the school system to work full time in the family business of restoring antiques and building antique replicas.  “Building mostly 18th century reproductions and adaptations,” the Leakes also produce some 19th and 20th century pieces.  “We want all our pieces to be able to stand the test of time, so we use hand cut dovetails and mortise and tenon construction to put all our pieces together.” Not having a “line of furniture,” John and Jay build tables, chairs, cupboards, bed, and other pieces in many different styles and woods.  Each piece is “bench made” meaning one at a time.  

The showroom beside the shop contains 30 or more pieces “representing most of the furniture forms, styles, woods, and finishes” the Leakes use.  They work with solid wood, primarily black walnut, but they also work in cherry and tiger maple. If it’s a “piece of furniture based on an “18th century design, that part was completed 200 years ago and can hardly be improved [upon].  If it is a custom piece, we get input from the client as to their needs and ideas, make sketches, and go from there.”  With a philosophy based on simplicity, the Leakes use the finest materials available to create furniture based on historical accuracy in both the joining of wood and finish.  The Cellaret is their signature piece and is an 18th century inspired cabinet or sideboard used to house bottles of wine, decanters, and/or glasses.  

A beautiful Leakes piece
A beautiful Leakes piece

The hardwood comes from a supplier in Pennsylvania. The wood is clean of knots and hand-picked, prepared by the dealer arriving in rough boards, and ready to use.  When constructing large pieces, such as dining room tables or cabinets, boards from the same tree are used in order to keep the color consistent. The brassware comes from Connecticut and is museum quality hardware. Each piece takes about three weeks to make with two people working on it from start to finish.  

“We’re a little different than most business.  Except for sending out emails, no business is kept on computers.  With only the two of us, we can keep it simple. We like it that way,” says Jay.  With John and Jay being so much alike, it’s kind of scary, but when they disagree, John is still Jay’s dad.  “He’s the boss, and he’s usually right 95% of the time,” says Jay. “We work together every day, and we hang out together too. It works out good; we’re lucky.”  

John Howard Leake III hard at work
John Howard Leake III hard at work

The Leake name is well established in the Piedmont.  “Our name comes up a lot.  You can’t stay in business in a small town if you don’t keep your word.  It boils down to one thing in the end,” says Jay, “all you have is your name and your word.  If that’s not dependable or trustworthy, what do you have?”

For more info, visit www.leakesantiques.com