Bernhardt Furniture Company was founded in 1889 by John M. Bernhardt. Orphaned at 13, John Bernhardt left for Oregon to become a government surveyor but returned home three years later to pursue a career as a logger and timber cutter. After buying a sawmill, he saw an opportunity to use timber in the manufacture of sturdy oak bedroom furniture. The company he started quickly found a market in such urban centers as Chicago and New York City. As the business grew under the leadership of the Bernhardt family, new product categories, dining room and living room furniture were added and additional facilities were built or purchased from other furniture manufacturers.
Until the 1980’s, the company was vertically integrated, having a veneer mill, lumber yard and numerous kilns as well as adhesives and particleboard plants. By 1981, in order to diversify the product offering, Bernhardt began sourcing globally and now has offices in four Asian countries, staffed with 50 employees to ensure the quality for which Bernhardt is known. However, the company still has a significant manufacturing operation in western North Carolina, with 12 facilities and 1500 skilled employees.
In 1983, Bernhardt Furniture added a line of commercial furniture, Bernhardt Design, manufacturing quality conservatively styled casegoods, conference and occasional tables, guest, lounge and wood guest chairs for the corporate and legal markets. Gradually, the product line expanded stylistically, adding more contemporary products and multi-purpose tables and seating and conference chairs.
Internationally known designers joined the creative team, including: Patrick Jouin (Paris), Arik Levy (Paris), Ross Lovegrove (London), Fabien Baron (New York), Jhane Barnes (New York), Patrick Norguet (Paris), CuldeSac (Valencia), Yves Béhar (San Francisco), Suzanne Trocmé (London), hansandfranz (Munich), Christian Biecher (Paris), Tyler Brûlé (Zurich), Jaime Hayon (Barcelona), and Lievore Altherr Molina (Barcelona.)
In order to encourage student designers to make their products suitable for mass markets, Bernhardt Design sponsors an interdisciplinary course with the world-renowned Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Students who excel in the program have their products included in Bernhardt’s standard product line.
Bernhardt Design also sponsors ICFF Studio, a scholarship program which gives deserving designers global exposure to manufacturers, retailers and the media.