Chris Clemans has been exposed to woodworking since childhood when he spent time in his father’s framing shop and helped with various wood projects at home. After high school, he acquired formal education at the School of American Craftsmen taking classes in both Furniture Design and Construction. His post-college travels brought him to a cabinet shop in Wisconsin where he worked producing cabinetry in an apprentice position with Heartwood Cabinetmakers. The shop used primarily hand tools, and emphasized high quality in its production.
Eventually Chris became Director of Adirondack Woodcraft Camp for children, and in 1987 began to fill his quiet winter hours by building pieces of furniture and small specialty items which were sold in local craft stores and through a Cooperative of Adirondack Craftspeople. He worked in a building on the camp property that had no source of heat, and dated back to the early 1900s. After a short time he started to get requests for bigger projects: a kitchen, a bookcase, a bathroom vanity. He realized that he would need some heat, and fixed up his shop with an old furnace, and some used tools.
In 2000, Chris was busy enough as a part-time cabinetmaker that he needed to focus his full energies on growing his business. He quit his job at the camp, incorporated his first business, Backwoods Fine Woodworking, and hired an assistant. The need to grow and incorporate was the result of the increasing demand, and Backwoods could no longer operate as a side-business if it Chris was going to be able to grow and develop it properly. He learned about business management through reading and experience, and proved to have a special gift in both design and manufacture of custom cabinetry as well as in developing and maintaining client and employee relationships. The remote location of the shop in Old Forge, NY, in the heart of the Adirondacks, proved to be a challenge in growing the company since there is no postal delivery in the winter, and there are few common carriers that will travel to the area unless they have a full load. Purchase of supplies that were too large to be shipped via UPS was often difficult, and Chris recalls many trips to Utica and Syracuse to pick up goods that the suppliers wouldn’t deliver – driving a pickup truck full of wood, plywood, groceries and other household necessities back from the visits to ‘civilization’.
Backwoods rapidly established a reputation in the Adirondacks and Syracuse as a high-end custom cabinet shop that provided excellent attention to detail, and great customer service. The more unique the project, the more apt the Backwoods crew was to say ‘yes’. The little crew of 3 soon outgrew their primitive shop in the back woods and built a 5000 square foot shop closer to the town of Old Forge. Radiant floor heat and an indoor bathroom significantly improved working conditions and productivity, and by 2003, there was too much work for the threesome.
During its heyday, Backwoods Fine Woodworking employed 7 people who were still facing supply issues, and had really outgrown the new shop. The shop floor was crowded and couldn’t support more equipment or people, and there was a growing backlog of work to be completed. Analysis of the production process identified the most inefficient part of the operation as the production of the pieces of material that will make up the carcasses or boxes of the cabinets. Chris considered the possibility of adding additional shifts to increase productivity, and eventually decided to expand the operation into Syracuse to allow access to a larger geographic area and improve options for delivery of materials. The prospect of buying a building, filling it with new equipment and new staff and creating a new niche presented Clemans with enough logistics challenges that it was necessary to create an incredibly detailed business plan and seek out sources of financing.
In 2005, CabFab purchased and renovated an 1896 brass foundry building in a decaying neighborhood of Syracuse. Based largely upon Chris’ ability to vision renovation of the space, and a belief in the quality of the product and production team, an enormous clean-up, re-tooling and outfitting of the space was undertaken, and in May 2005, the CabFab name was established. In October 2005, the showroom opened.
Backwoods Fine Woodworking had defined a unique niche in the market by providing both a superior product and efficient customer-service that left clients impressed with the process of working with the company from design through construction and installation. Professionals including architects, designers, and contractors who worked with Backwoods consistently remarked how refreshing it was to have someone deliver what they promised on time. It was through attention to detail that the company had distinguished itself apart from competitors, and CabFab set out to continue to operate with that as its’ core mission - intending to maintain the same standards of quality and customer service that Backwoods had become known for.
A few fortuitous connections provided long-term commercial work for both shops as CabFab continued to grow its name and reputation in Syracuse, and once the initial work was completed for these clients, they returned over and over again, asking us to do more work, often quite specialized. We always got it finished on time and within the budget they had outlined with us, which has allowed CabFab to live up to its mission thus far.
Chris has recently returned to the shop floor and is actively working on and overseeing production of one of a kind fine furniture pieces and specialty items. We feel that CabFab is still young, but we have great optimism that we can continue along the path started over 20 years ago by Chris – and just keep growing our reputation as fine cabinetmakers and now furniture makers as well.