The Allure of Handcrafted Cape Cod Tables

April 2020 IssueCreative EconomyFeatured Stories

A couple in Chatham have taken over an established business making beautiful custom dining tables, fashioned out of repurposed New England wood.

 Located in an antique barn on Route 28 in West Chatham, Cape Cod Colonial Tables was founded 12 years ago by Bob Benson and his son, Chris. The former owner of Fishing the Cape, a fishing outfitter in East Harwich, Bob started the Cape Cod Colonial Tables as a retirement side business. Bob’s wife, Marcia, joined the business after she retired. It grew and grew, larger than they had anticipated.

 Ready to slow down, the Bensons  recently passed the business to Kim and John Fullmer, who took over the reins in January. For the previous two years, John had worked there part-time.

A merchant mariner, John served as a second mate safety officer aboard cargo ships transporting liquid natural gas around the world. His schedule was ten weeks at sea, and ten weeks at his home in Harwich.  While at home, he began working for the Bensons.

 “Pretty much in the two years I worked there I learned everything, that’s why they approached us,” says John. “They handed over the torch, so to speak.”

 Had they not agreed to take over the business, says John, the business would have closed.  That would have been a shame, especially since John reports that sales are strong.

 So John and his wife Kim, a registered nurse by training and stay-at-home mom, began renting the property and running Cape Cod Colonial Tables full time. The Bensons live on the same property as the business, and are mentoring John and Kim.

 “This is me going back to back to work, as well,” says Kim.

Cape Cod Colonial Tables sources old New England white pine and American chestnut boards in barns, farmhouses and factories from around New England.  They make dining tables, benches, desks and coffee tables. According to John, the wood they use is anywhere from 150 to 300 years old. In addition, the company sells Windsor chairs handmade by Windsor Chairs by Dan in Maine.

  “Used to be, customers only wanted pine, now people want American chestnut,” says John. American chestnut trees grew abundantly on the East Coast. It’s rot resistant, straight-grained, and excellent for furniture and construction. But a blight in the early 20th century destroyed an estimated three to four billion trees, making it almost extinct.

 “The American chestnut has a huge history,” says John, who notes that customers feel a certain nostalgia for the wood.

 Often, customers are home owners who are seeking a dining table of a specific size. When they can’t find one that’s just right, they order a custom table.  The antique, natural wood also lends itself to Cape Cod homes. Production usually takes between eight and 10 weeks.

 In addition  to John and Kim, the company has one part-time employee who does the deliveries and assembles the two-part tables at customers’ homes.

 Customers come to Cape Cod Colonial Tables through word-of-mouth.

 “People come over to someone’s house for dinner, and they see the table. We get that a lot,” observes John. 

 The business is also well situated on Route 28 in West Chatham, so foot traffic, especially in the summer, is strong. Once there, customers are free to wander through the workshop, and they’re hooked.

 “You could be in the middle of a project and a customer comes in, but they come first,” says John with a laugh.

 Since taking over the business, Kim has updated the website, and they’ve begun tapping more into social media. That’s taken off well, they report.

 John thinks one of the biggest advantages of their business is the custom nature of it.  Customers like to select the wood that will be used for a piece of furniture that plays such an important role in daily life.

 “They feel like they’re a part of it,” he says.

 Of course, the coronavirus has slowed operations, but the company is busy on existing orders.

“We have quite a few orders and hopefully we can reopen soon,” he says.

 By all accounts, it appears this mariner and his wife have found a permanent port. 

 We’re really appreciative of Bob and Marcia handing it over to us.  We’re taking over a very successful business, and we’re very appreciative of that.”

Cape Cod Colonial Tables, 1731 Main St., Chatham, 508-713-0143, www.capecodcolonialtables.com

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