Tucked away in the Brass neighborhood near the train tracks at 6112 14th Ave. is New Breed Furniture. While an unassuming building on the outside, the workshop on the inside is filled with hundreds of pieces of wood paneling, planking and pillars, stacked against the walls or sitting on tables.
A wild assortment of woodworking equipment, ranging from a Japanese saw to drills, is scattered around the room, enough tools for a small army of woodworkers. For now, it’s just John Lindsay, founder and owner of the luxury furniture company.
Lindsay sports a neatly trimmed beard with a few flecks of gray, the only clue that the man, who looks to be in his late 30s, is actually in his 50s.
He describes himself as a “one-man army”, designing, building and selling his own furniture; sophisticated and elegant solid wood pieces that are currently in hotels and corporate headquarters across the country.
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“It appeals to everyone, young and old,” said Lindsay. “There is handicraft, everything is handcrafted. So there’s a certain sculptural element to it.”
The pieces are expensive, even the cheapest table costing just over $1,200, but Lindsay said her business was a response to today’s culture of low-quality throwaway furniture. He wanted to make furniture, Lindsay said, that people’s grandchildren would fight over for generations from now.
The name “New Breed”, as well as its pieces of furniture, goes back to the history of woodworking. After World War II, Lindsay said that Japanese architects and designers who adopted Western building styles and techniques called themselves the “new breed”.
“The greatest woodworking tradition in human history was wiped off the map because they embraced Western technology,” Lindsay said. “So I took that name and turned it upside down. I try to represent this ancient craft in a world of veneer technology and fake manufacturing.”
While pieces may vary, they all share a design theme that unifies its 300+ chairs, desks, tables, shelves and more. Constructed almost exclusively from wood, the designs harken back to the styles of Frank Lloyd Wright.
That’s an observation Lindsay doesn’t shy away from.
In the mid-1990s, Lindsay was fresh out of college, working at her construction company in Chicago. Raised in a white-collar neighborhood, he gained an appreciation for working with his hands as a teenager while working at a construction company renovating Victorian homes.
“I got the virus in high school,” Lindsay said. “When I left college, I had the opportunity to get into film, which was my specialization, but the idea of being a worker earning a minimum wage did not appeal to me.”
At the time, Kelmscott Gallery, 4611 N. Lincoln Ave., displayed original Wright furniture pieces in an invitation-only showroom. Lindsay rang the bell, armed with pencil and paper, hoping to sketch out a specific table he “just needs to own” and reproduce himself.
The gallery owner took an interest in Lindsay.
“He asked me if I was an architect, I said no, I was a carpenter,” Lindsay recalled. “Which wasn’t true. I was a carpenter.”
The white lie would be worth it, though.
“He said, ‘Well, would you be interested in working with me on some stuff,’” Lindsay said. “And in a very short period of time, I started making reproduction furniture for him.”
Lindsay would become part of the Frank Lloyd Wright Conservation Team, getting her hands on hundreds of original pieces and giving private tours of Wright’s buildings.
“And what I learned was that I can do this on my own,” Lindsay said. “The thing about prairie furniture is that a lot of it was built not by furniture makers but by carpenters. Many of them are crudely made and they gave me permission to be a furniture maker.
He was making exorbitant amounts of money for a 20-year-old, but during a weekend of events held at Wright homes throughout the Chicagoland area, Lindsay said he realized he needed to move on.
“There I was, meeting all these clients, doing all this work, and I got a really strong sense of it,” says Lindsay. “I don’t believe in ghosts. But I had this weird feeling that Frank Lloyd Wright himself was saying to me, ‘OK, you cut your teeth, you learned your trade, you studied with the master, now it’s time for you to do your own thing.
His journey to the workshop in Kenosha would be bumpy, though. The 9/11 attacks would decimate the luxury furniture industry. Lindsay, with a third child on the way and medical bills from her son’s autism diagnosis, abandoned her plans to become an artist, moving to Kenosha in search of a lower cost of living and more accessible health care. He would go to Chicago to work for the next nine years, working on small projects on the side.
So Alessandro Paradiso, an adjunct professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Lindsay’s unofficial mentor, approached him about starting a furniture business together.
After initial breakthrough success, including major projects with three corporations, Lindsay said she decided to take a chance on the business, quitting her steady job and working full-time in 2010.
“I decided it was time to jump over the edge and go after my dream,” says Lindsay.
It’s been feast or famine ever since, Lindsay admitted. His most recent big project, an $800,000 job furnishing a hotel, was another in a long list of big opportunities.
But when he returned to Kenosha after closing the business, the pandemic shutdowns kicked in and lumber costs quadrupled. At the end of the project, Lindsay said he was even, financially speaking.
“That’s been a theme throughout my career,” Lindsay said. “I’ve worked with some of the best designers in the world, I’ve done amazing work at a high level. But then there is the economy, the pandemic, all those things.”
The 30 or so additional workers he hired during the project are long gone, and Lindsay said that for now, he’s busy with the online store, with the site generating about $100,000 in sales alone.
“It’s keeping the bills paid,” Lindsay said. “I am enjoying the simpler lifestyle.”
For now, Lindsay said it was in an “incubation period”, tweaking existing designs. However, that’s not to say that he would turn down a project if he ever came forward.
“You’re talking to a fighter, someone who really fought and fought the good fight and continues to fight for food to stay relevant and alive,” said Lindsay.