The Erwin-Lambeth Furniture company was based in Thomasville, North Carolina, USA. It was a family run business which had it’s origins dating back as far as 1901. Originally the Lambeth family started the Standard Chair Company. Following the death of James Erwin Lambeth Snr in 1947, his son James Erwin Lambeth Jnr and his wife Katherine ‘KC’ Lambeth founded Erwin Lambeth. They built a new plant with the aim to create furniture specifically for the design trade. Between James’ family background in quality furniture manufacturing and KC’s skills as a Designer and an innate business woman, they developed a business that thrived.
KC Lambeth and her pivotal role at the Erwin-Lambeth Furniture Company
Unusually for the times, Katharine had a pivotal role in the development of the company. She was a Designer herself and the first President of the company. As President, she endeavored to operate her company from a woman’s point of view. The furniture industry was (and arguably still is) dominated by men. But K.C. Lambeth viewed the industry differently. She could spot the gaps in the market. Intuitively she knew that Erwin-Lambeth could fill those gaps. She could see two things that were in short supply; “Choice” and “Quality”. Two initial ideas made up her business plan: 1. “Build to a standard and not a price.” and 2. “Focus on what we can do for our customers rather than what we can sell them.”
The Role of the Employees
K.C. believed in the importance of her employees at the Erwin-Lambeth Furniture Company. Employees were considered by her to be part of her extended family. It was this sense of respect that permeated throughout the company. Still working up into her 70’s and referred to as “Mama K” by all who knew her, she wanted each employee to “achieve a sense of contributing to the whole, while still retaining an individual desire to accomplish their own goals”.
In 1987, James and Katharine’s youngest son, Rod, bought another family-run business, Tomlinson. Two years later, he bought the Erwin Lambeth Furniture Company from his parents. These two great family-owned companies were merged. Erwin-Lambeth continues to trade still to this day under The Tomlinson Companies umbrella and produces custom built furniture.
James Lambeth junior passed away in 1995. His beloved wife “KC” continued to both work in the business and design up until her death in 1998.