Henkel Harris Furniture -There's Something About Mary

Founder of Henkel Harris Furniture There is Something about MaryFrom a young age Mary Henkel was a force to be reckoned with. Mary graduated high school in Winchester Virginia in 1928 and then moved to New York to attend the Parsons School of Design where she graduated with her ASID degree in interior design. In an era where few women were educated beyond high school, Mary viewed higher education as opportunity.

In 1937, Mary and Carroll Henkel were married. Carroll was from Spokane Washington, but had family connections to Mary’s family in Winchester, which is how they met. When Carroll graduated from the University of West Virginia with an engineering degree, the couple married and moved to Pittsburg, PA where Carroll had taken a position as a metallurgist engineer for Carnegie Steel.  Mary had found a beautiful apartment and had hopes of an idyllic life, but the world had different plans.

The United States entered into World War II with Germany and Japan, and Carroll received his induction orders from the army.  The army transferred the young couple several times in a few short years from Ohio, to DC, to Virginia, all the while sending Carroll on numerous, long classified trips overseas leaving Mary alone to fend for herself. Mary finally decided to move home to family in Winchester, but kept a small flat rented in the Georgetown district of Washington D.C. for the few and far between times her husband was home.

After the war, like so many other veterans, Carroll was adrift and not certain of what he wanted to do with his future.  Carnegie offered him his job back, but he knew his wife was happiest in her home town of Winchester, VA and he had to admit, he also loved the town. He just did not know how to make a living there. During a conversation between his wife and his friend Johnny Harris, Carroll Henkel told them, “I love this town, but I’m not a doctor, I’m not a lawyer, I’m not a farmer, I’m not an apple man, I’m not anything connected and there’s no work here that I can do. But I would love to live in this town. I love it.”  From that conversation between friends, a business idea was born. Mary told her husband he could start a furniture store and she would be the interior decorator. She said, “I can be that part of the business.”  Mary had no idea what a big part of the Henkel Harris success story she would become. The three friends, Mary and Carroll Henkel and their best friend John Harris all invested their life savings and began Henkel Harris Furniture.

Furniture pieces by Henkel Harris FurnitureThe beginning of Henkel Harris Furniture was tough going. The fledgling company almost did not make it. While Mary knew design and décor, none of them knew how to build furniture. Their initial investment was quickly eaten up by purchasing machinery they did not need and materials that were not sturdy. They persevered, Carroll found a lender that valued their ideas and Mary cultivated friends in the industry that she admired and knew could help them. Mary hired the best craftsman, listened to the advice from friends such as Harold Baker of Baker furniture and worked alongside her craftsman so that she understood every facet of the business. In fact, it was Mary who, through trial and error work in the shop, invented the acclaimed Henkel Harris Finish which is still regarded today for it’s high clarity, durability and quality.

While Mary was learning the craft trade end of the business, John Harris and Carroll Henkel were out selling the furniture. The difficulty of taking your furniture with you to show to customers was overwhelming and Mary started taking pictures for the men to take of their furniture. Eventually a catalog came from this. It was a new way to sell, bring a catalog and leave it with your client to peruse at their leisure.

In 1968 Carroll passed away, leaving Mary alone to run the company. Friends in the industry told her to get out because women could not run a furniture manufacturing business. That was when she knew she would keep the company and grow it to spite the naysayers.

Not only did Mary Henkel grow her beloved Henkel Harris Furniture company, she went on to serve as the Director of the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association and was elected into the American Furniture Hall of Fame. It was not just Henkel Harris company that prospered under her management. Mary gave back to her employees and the community.  She paid the tuition for her employees to attend college. She donated thousands to Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, Virginia. Mary was also a supporter of Shenandoah University where a hall was dedicated to her name and she established the Carroll H Henkel Memorial Scholarship Fund at North Caroline State University. As if that were not enough, she supported a number of charities and civic organizations in the Winchester Virginia area.  Read an in depth interview with Mary Henkel here.

Mary would take her craftsman to Mount Vernon to study the antique furnitureMary Henkel’s first love was antiques. Mary shared and nurtured that passion with her craftsmen. Four times a year she would take them on a field trip to Mount Vernon or Williamsburg, where she arranged with the curators to close the attractions to the public for the afternoon to allow her craftsmen to study, touch and draw the antiques so they could return home and create the reproduction pieces that Henkel Harris had become famous for.  Mary would also travel to Europe by herself and purchase and bring back European antiques for her craftsmen to replicate.  The line of quality and beautiful reproductions nurtured by Mary Henkel is what made the company so popular with the public.

Boyles friendship with Henkel Harris dates back to the beginning of both companies in the 1940’s and Boyles is proud to carry the Henkel-Harris line of furniture.Shop for Henkel Harris Furniture at Outlet Prices at Boyles