Sustainable custom-made woodworking shop Long White Beard thrives in Ferndale thanks to owners Shelby Holtzman and Dan Erickson.
Photography Derrick Martinez
Driving through Ferndale, it’s easy to miss Long White Beard’s white, unassuming building. It’s almost easiest to figure out where it is by the symphony of saw noises rather than through your phone’s navigation system.
First opened in 2014, this uniquely named shop is co-owned by Shelby Holtzman and Dan Erickson, who dabble in designing and crafting heirloom-quality furniture and other unique home furnishings.
“We have a full woodshop and a small steel shop, so we do all of our own table bases and brackets and hardware and things like that,” West Bloomfield native and Temple Israel attendee Holtzman said. “It really allows us to do almost everything in-house and get the end result that we really want.”
Before opening Long White Beard, named after the fathers of the aforementioned team who both had beards, Holtzman merely engaged in woodworking as a hobby. It was an avenue through which she could gift handmade pieces to family and friends and, soon enough, it became something a bit more.
“Five years ago, I was managing a coffee shop, and Dan was a customer,” Holtzman said. “He was looking to start a business and, by that point, I was making furniture for not only myself but also for my family and friends. We started talking and decided to put this together and make it an actual company.”
Upon opening, Long White Beard operated out of Holtzman’s garage in Ferndale. The next year, they moved to the Russell Industrial Center in Downtown Detroit. However, in November 2016, their current location became available and they jumped at the chance to return to Ferndale, the city where it all began for them.
Though they make a variety of pieces forged out of wood and steel, Long White Beard offers a variety of mostly custom-made, but also standard, handcrafted items.
“In terms of small home goods stuff, we’ve sold our diamond shelves quite a bit, and we sell an adjustable bath caddy,” Holtzman said. “We made non-adjustable, custom bath caddies for three years, and they were one of our most popular items. Finally, we combined all of the numbers and we figured out how to make an adjustable one so we can just make them and have them available.
“In terms of big stuff, we make a lot of dining room tables,” she continued. “We make a fair amount of coffee tables, desks, shelves, stuff like that, but we make a lot of tables. I think that people feel if there’s one thing they want to have that’s very special to keep and pass on, and with the idea of having the whole family around it and it being this kind of centerpiece of the house, it’s a table.”
The wood that Long White Beard utilizes to make these tables, bath caddies and other items is all sustainable. In other words, these are all Michigan hardwoods that would otherwise be chipped. These live-edge slabs come from a local company called Live Edge Detroit. Whenever possible, Long White Beard uses all the natural edges of the wood to give each piece its unique, individual style.
“We like to experiment with colors, experiment with grain — especially the live-edge stuff,” Holtzman said. “Being able to preserve what is unique and beautiful about it serves as an inspiration on its own. We rarely make two pieces exactly the same.”
Woodworking and owning a business weren’t skills that Holtzman learned overnight. With each project, she and Erickson are learning more about best practices and improving the quality of their products.
“As we make things, we add it to the list of things we’re super comfortable making, and we want to make on a larger scale,” Holtzman said. “As we started to work with architect firms and interior design firms, we’ve gotten to do fun commercial projects and other projects that are a bit more unorthodox, a bit challenging.”
“Shelby was raised with women role models in her everyday life,” Lee Holtzman, Shelby’s mother, said. “I’m proud and yet not surprised that she has done well in a male-dominated field. When she shifted her basement hobby to her life’s work and passion, she already had a level of expectation that she would be successful. The rest has been determination, hard work and, of course, creative talent.”
As in any field, success is nothing without passion for the work you do. While Holtzman and Erickson have achieved something rewarding in starting Long White Beard, they’ve also realized a passion for an industry that they didn’t recognize when they were working at a coffee shop and a cable company, respectively.
“Running a small business is hard, but it’s also incredibly rewarding,” Holtzman said.
“We’re very invested in our community, and it’s wonderful to work locally. We love what we do; we’re very proud of what we do; we’re proud of how far we’ve come in the last five years.”