Our Story

INNOVATING BENCH MADE FURNITURE SINCE 1898

Welcome to Tomlinson Companies. We have a long history – 121 years – of hand crafting beautiful furniture for design projects all over the world. We have the privilege of being in incredible homes, fine hotels, top resorts and stellar country clubs – we have even made furniture for several U.S. Presidents. Our unique understanding of the design industry and legacy manufacturing has allowed us to partner with our clients on their projects. Whether the design is residential or hospitality, our talented team can execute your vision.

Tomlinson Companies has grown over the years. Tomlinson, Erwin-Lambeth, Directional & Carter are our four divisions and are equally steadfast in their designs and products. The capabilities are endless. Today, we still handcraft product the way is should be made to achieve the ultimate in design, performance and comfort.

 YOUR VISION, CREATED BY US.

IT ALL STARTED WHEN …

The story of Tomlinson Companies began over one hundred years ago…

Standard Chair Company was forged by James Erwin Lambeth Sr. in 1898. Their biggest customer was Sears Roebuck Co. – they made all of the wooden rockers. Those were large orders in the late 1800’s! The factory was in Thomasville NC and began growing in size and capabilities in the early 1900’s. They began to hone their craft and soon were building more than just rockers. We’ll circle back to where this company ties into who we are today …

Sidney Halstead Tomlinson, Sr. co-founded The Tomlinson Chair Manufacturing Co. with his brother in 1901. He started with 12 employees.

Sidney Halstead Tomlinson also believed in his employees. He always insured their safety and well being. He spent a great deal of money on his factory to provide modern and safe equipment for his employees while other manufacturers operated on a sweatshop mentality. Mr. S.H., as he was called by all his employees, operated a company newspaper and supported sports teams for both men and women in the first half of the 1900’s. There were three service clubs for his employees, the highest of which was the Diamond Club, which was for employees with over 40 years with the company.

Tomlinson was one of the first manufacturers to make matched dining room suites and to develop period adaptations in the 19th Century French, English and American styles. In order to show their product to its best advantage, Tomlinson devised displays in gallery form, starting a marketing trend that is still widely used today.

Rod Lambeth and Howard Williams purchased Tomlinson Furniture Company in 1987.

Four men working with you are worth forty men working for you.

— Sidney Halstead Tomlinson - aka "Mr. S.H."

Katharine Covington Lambeth was the first president and co-founded Erwin-Lambeth with her husband, James Erwin Lambeth in 1946. The first year, the furniture was produced in the Standard Chair Company factory.

Ms. K.C. Lambeth believed in the importance of her employees and considered them part of her extended family. Still working up into her 70’s and referred to as “Mama K” by all who knew her, she wanted each employee to “achieve a sense of contributing to the whole, while still retaining an individual desire to accomplish their own goals”.

Katharine Covington Lambeth operated her company from a woman’s point of view. She knew what was missing in a furniture industry dominated by men. She wanted two things that were not available to her as a designer. “Choices” and “Quality”. Her “business plan” was based on two concepts:

“Build to a standard, not a price.”

“Focus on what we can do for our customers rather than what we can sell them”.

Headed by a strong visionary in its beginning a new plant was built in 1947 to create furniture specifically for the design trade. Kay Lambeth changed the way we think of furniture today. She respected their employees and knew that without their talent, they could not achieve the goals she wanted for the company. And always, always, always …Quality!

The design projects she worked on over the years presented challenges for furniture in terms of scale and dimension. Those challenges would find solutions by her in the products she created for Erwin-Lambeth. “As You Like It” was conceived in the 1950’s and is still available today. The concept was simple, and truthfully, she was puzzled as to why nothing like it existed … the brownstones of her New York clients were especially incompatible for the available furniture in the marketplace. Kay found herself in a conundrum, and one she easily engineered out from under.Why not build exactly the product you need for the space – the proper scale, the proper seating. Brilliant were her thoughts, in fact, several of her designs are so relevant for today’s interiors, you can find a few on the showroom floor at market. (Erwin-Lambeth innovated such programs as “Furniture by the Inch”, “As You Like It” and “Form and Fashion”. All were designed to offer “choices”.

Carter Furniture was making furniture that retailers and designers depended upon for quality and achievable pricing. They could do more than their small factory could accommodate, so in 2009, Carter became part of Tomlinson Companies.

MID-CENTURY MODERN…OR IS IT?

Vladimir Kagan Cloud Sofa

Directional Furniture captured the essence of mid-century modern before it was a trendy name. Directional has always been the sought after brand designers have gravitated to since the last mid-century! Classic lines and futuristic curves have defined the furniture that has distinctly been labeled Directional.

Designers have always recognized the designs of Vladimir Kagan, and often see the beautiful silhouettes he commissioned Directional to produce for him. The story is best told in his book, Vladimir Kagan: A Lifetime of Avant-Garde Design, published in 2015. Today, Directional is a division of Tomlinson Companies. The steadfast quality and modernistic design holds true in the current product and certainly lends to the styling of tomorrow’s.

 

As we look forward to 2020, Rod Lambeth and team are excited about where we are going. Always with a nod to our incredible past, we begin new chapters in the design industry. We continue to build furniture one piece at a time by incredible craftsmen in our factory in Thomasville NC. The innovations that technology has provided our industry are being embraced and utilized to better serve our factory, our team and our designers. We are really proud to have the fifth generation of our family working in the company.

“The ability to appreciate the concept of the design and the ability to see it through to reality. Every piece of furniture we build impacts someone. We are rewarded by the simple fact that we have created a piece of furniture that makes someone happy and enjoy life just a little bit more.”

And isn’t that what it is all about? Creating a memory. We’re so glad we are able to help people do just that.

Come and see us, we’re here for you.

My mother was unique in that she built the business and ran it from her heart. Her dedication to the furniture industry and the consumer was always unmatched.

— Rod Lambeth