Made in New Jersey: Greenbaum Interiors

JBD Explores the Bespoke Furniture Maker's Workroom & Talks the Tradition of Custom Craftsmanship

For 66 years, family-owned Greenbaum Interiors has been a go-to furniture maker in northern New Jersey. Around 30 artisans — several of whom have been with the company for over 25 years — handcraft some of the most exquisite, world-class furniture made in the U.S. Their workrooms are able to produce everything from custom drapery, cabinetry, and woodworking to finishing, decorative arts, upholstery, and restoration.

With a client list including Bill Gates, King Hussein of Jordan, members of the Onassis family, and Eddie Murphy, Ellen Krasner Greenbaum has made a name for herself in the creative world of interior design. In a statement for NorthJersey.com, she stated, “We don’t fool around.” Their discerning clientele appreciate their high-quality products that stand the test of time. Amy Vande Streek — the lead designer at our Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, design studio — recently visited the company and spoke with Greenbaum.

 
 
A good designer will have the courage to redirect you when you go astray, and you need to earn that trust and rapport.
— Ellen Krasner Greenbaum

AVS: When you are first kicking off any type of project, what type of things do you need to know before getting started?

EG: The most important thing is that clients come to see if they like our products, then I will connect them with a designer. Together, they have a discussion about budget and expectations. Clients need to be upfront about their budget and honest with their designers. When it is a good match, it’s like a good marriage. Our business grew because of designers and repeat business. We have very loyal customers and families that come back often.

The challenge is also to keep the client designer relationship in tact. Shop with your designer, and be open about your tastes because it’s your house. A good designer will have the courage to redirect you when you go astray, and you need to earn that trust and rapport.

AVS: What challenges do you face after you get started on a project?

EG: Pricing can be a challenge. Homeowners don’t often understand the difference between a $500 and a $5,000 sofa. They need to see how custom is made and feels. Advise clients to buy good — not cheap. Don’t just buy price, even if it’s less. If you have endless money to spend, what type of car would you buy? One might easily say a Rolls Royce or Porsche. When you ask what furniture would you buy, clients don’t know.

AVS: Can you share a recent project you’re proud of? One that you’ve really enjoyed seeing come together?

EG: One project in Saratoga, where we used Macassar ebony, an exotic wood, to create built-in cabinetry, moldings, and wonderful paneling. We’ll do walnut, pine, cherry — any species. We measure on site, build, and finish it at our workroom, execute installation. It is a turn-key experience.

AVS: What technical advancements drive innovative projects to your workrooms?

EG: Interesting you should ask! We did a cabinet for someone with an extensive baseball collection. He wanted smart glass in it so that when you walk in the room and saw the cabinetry, you didn’t see anything. It is black to start with. When you press a button, the opacity changes and it becomes clear.

Gray, white, and beige are nice, but they can be very boring and monotonous. Let’s add some color!
— Ellen Krasner Greenbaum

AVS: You shared earlier that many people have shown less interest in more detailed furniture. How have you handled that change in preference to a minimalist aesthetic?

EG: We try to educate and aim to introduce our clientele to something in the market that they don’t know about and isn’t accessible on the computer. Gray, white, and beige are nice, but they can be very boring and monotonous. Let’s add some color! The biggest challenge is online retailers selling a quick “click and done” style of shopping.

AVS: True! It’s easy to lose sight of one’s personal preferences. It’s easy to get lost in the proliferation and accessibility of home goods online. It’s better to ask, “What stirs and inspires me?” When you say you educate people, it’s sort of like saying, “Don’t forget your own soul.”

EG: That’s exactly right. You’ve hit it on the head. I find there is a lack of understanding about style and value. Everyone says, “Yes, I want a beautiful home,” but are you willing to sit down and work with someone, or are you running to a big box retailer?

From our talk with Ellen Krasner Greenbaum, we were reminded of just how important quality interior design work can be. Sure, people can potentially save time and money by buying their own pieces from a large retailer — but there’s a distinct magic of the process that’s lost, along with the personalized beauty that comes from unique interior design. By working with an interior designer or custom builder, you can find and create pieces that match your elegant style.