Rare Wood Finds New Life
Susan Suggs | floridacurrents.com
January 14th, 2016
Joe Sinkovich is all about the details. Whether as a business owner, salesman, father or coach, he delves into everything he does with a commitment to quality.
For Joe—the founder, owner and president of a furniture design business based in Pensacola—nothing is standard.
That starts with the wood used to craft each piece of furniture by hand and even extends to how Joe started his company, Armored Frog.
Joe’s background is in orthopedic implants. It was not until he moved to Pensacola and started restoring the family’s 1918 home in East Hills that he discovered old-growth cypress and heart pine woods.
Inspired by the old timbers and working with the builder, Joe created planters using the antique wood.
He has not stopped creating pieces.
Joe saw an opportunity to start a new business and began his pursuit of rare woods. He learned all he could about ancient timbers and how they are reclaimed from historic structures and riverbeds throughout the Southeast.
While Joe admits the journey from orthopedic sales to owner of a furniture business may seem like a stretch, he points out that both businesses are service oriented.
“This is similar to orthopedic sales where you are always solving problems, and sometimes what’s best is a custom-built solution,” he says.
Initially, finding the wood was hard, Joe says.
“I didn’t know where to go, and you couldn’t find it in the normal places you get lumber,” he explains. “I networked with old-timers and people who worked at sawmills or worked with the sawmill equipment.
“We look for buildings built in the 1850 to 1930 timeframe. When a building in that era is being demolished, we can find some of the most beautiful wood. It’s sturdy and there’s nothing quite like it.”
Joe says he started his business because of what he saw as a lack of quality and attention to detail.
“What’s good news in the furniture business is that there are customers who appreciate quality and have a willingness to pay how much it really costs to handcraft furniture here in the U.S.,” he says.
Armored Frog projects start with a custom work request.
“It might be someone wanting to do something with old wood from a home renovation, or a request for a new custom piece, which might come from a business or individual working with an interior designer,” Joe says.
The company shares an online gallery of photos of its completed work at www.thearmoredfrog.com. Joe says people who see a custom-built piece may be inspired and get their own idea.
“I work with several interior designers and got a call about a high-profile client that wanted to design a special table,” Joe says. “It was going to be big: 14 feet long by 52 inches wide. When I went out to meet them, it was Emeril Lagasse and his wife, Alden.
“They sat down and discussed what they were looking for and told me what they didn’t want. They were trying to blend something more contemporary and wanted an artistic, handcrafted, hand-painted feel that blended with their home collection of antiques from France, Europe and different places.”
The price of Armored Frog furniture reflects what it costs to pay the artists who design, build and paint it, Joe says.
“The difference is in the craftsmanship,” he adds. “It’s an education process. When people ask why an Armored Frog table costs $4,500 when they see another similar table for $2,500, I tell them to dive and look underneath the table to see what you are getting. Is it solid wood? Is everything hand fit and hand cut?”
A machine produces a replicated cut, which means it will not fit right every time, Joe says.
“We are a modern-day business practicing old craftsman values,” he says. “Our team is doing this because they like doing it. They specialize in building and finishing furniture. Nothing leaves our warehouse unless it’s right.”
A small group of people who have the experience, equipment and processes in place can create custom, handmade furniture with custom finishes in as little as a week, says Joe, who oversees each step of a new project—from a concept drawing to every detail and delivery.
As company president and CEO, Joe spreads the word about Armored Frog from Birmingham to Tallahassee, Montgomery to New Orleans, and Orange Beach to Panama City and Pensacola.
“There are a lot of things I could do, but what you find as a small startup is that you get very disciplined about where you spend your money, but even more disciplined about where you spend your time,” Joe says. “The fact that we are able to create custom furniture here and do it with quality—I spend a lot of time and effort telling that story. I am very proud that my business is able to employ people who care and love what they do, creating something very unique.”
Image: Joe Sinkovich with a slab of old wood that will be made into a custom piece of furniture, such as a stand. Joe left orthopedic sales to start a furniture business based on old craftsman values. He does not build the pieces, but oversees production from start to finish and handles sales.