Bedroom set that launched a furniture empire returns to its southern Minnesota roots

Freeman

Driving nearly 100 miles with a 70-year-old, hand-carved bedroom set in his truck was a nerve-racking experience for Michael Tuohy. […]

Driving nearly 100 miles with a 70-year-old, hand-carved bedroom set in his truck was a nerve-racking experience for Michael Tuohy.

The four-poster bed frame and two dressers had been the first furniture commission for his grandfather back in 1953. It was a simple transaction with the buyer, Leon Joyce of Rochester.

But for Joseph Tuohy, a Chatfield, Minn., man who had been woodcarving since he was a teenager, the deal launched what would become today’s international, multimillion-dollar furniture manufacturer.

When Joseph’s grandson Michael Tuohy, an executive with Tuohy Furniture, recently posted pictures of the dressers on the company’s history page, he received a call from Ann Christiansen of Golden Valley, one of Leon Joyce’s daughters.

Turns out that the Joyce family had kept all the pieces of that first bedroom set together and taken good care of them. Christiansen said she wanted to see the bed frame and dressers displayed where they belonged — at Tuohy Furniture’s corporate headquarters in Chatfield, a city of 3,000 southeast of Rochester, where the Tuohy family has lived for more than five generations. So her family decided to give the furniture back to the company.

Having the pieces on display at the corporate office is a great reminder of what small beginnings can grow into with hard work and a little bit of luck, Touhy said. “Over time, you expect things to move through a family and wind up forgotten, or gone,” he said.

After their parents died, Christiansen and her sister, Bernie Joyce of Eagan, committed to taking care of the bedroom set and planned to pass it between themselves every 10 years. But after seeing the work that went into moving it to Bernie’s house, Christiansen this year decided to see if the Tuohys would be interested in displaying the pieces instead.

The sisters theorized that their dad had surprised their mother with the hand-carved furniture, just days before the eldest sister’s marriage. Amid the pre-wedding chaos, Christiansen said they “all remember this bedroom set being moved in. … It was almost a nightmare.”

The Joyce and Tuohy families met each other when Joseph Tuohy’s sister married Leon Joyce’s brother, Christiansen said. At the time, Tuohy was the go-to woodworker in the area for church furniture, she said.

When the Joyces learned that Tuohy was getting serious about the business of woodworking, Christiansen said, they gave him a “financial boost” to get started and commissioned him to make the three-piece bedroom set.

“My mom and dad were understated people in an awful lot of ways,” Christiansen said, but she heard them express nothing but admiration for Joseph Tuohy and his work. She was told it took 14 days to carve one of the bed posts.

Joseph’s son Mike went on to take over the company from his dad, expanding it into markets in New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Today, Tuohy Furniture manufactures office desks, conference tables and chairs under the leadership of Mike’s sons, CEO Daniel and COO Michael.

Last month, Michael Tuohy and two employees carefully disassembled the furniture pieces and loaded them into a truck for the journey from Eagan to Chatfield. To Christiansen, it felt like “letting go of a lot of my family, even though my parents have both died a long time ago.”

Tuohy had asked his father, Mike, now 86, about the bedroom set after posting the pictures on the company website. Mike had helped carve the pieces as a teenager.

After moving the pieces into the company’s front office, Michael Tuohy invited his dad to take a look. “He just stopped and stared at it,” he said, and walked his son through every detail and carving.

“I saw the memories flow back,” Michael Tuohy said.

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