Furniture maker receives new national award

FERDINAND — A local businessman will be at the nation’s Capitol this Fourth of July to receive a national award for his work.
Keith Fritz, the man behind Keith Fritz Fine Furniture, will be honored with the first-ever William Thorton Award for Excellence in Craftsmanship from MADE: In America, a nonprofit educational organization based in Washington, D.C.

“I’m real excited,” Fritz said. “It’s a great opportunity for our company.”

Fritz, 34, and his 11 employees, all local craftsmen, build custom, luxury furniture by hand from unusual and exotic woods for elite clients across the United States. He is best known for his dining tables, but also makes occasional tables, desks, mirrors and other products. His clients have included former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as well as congressmen, media moguls and Hollywood stars.

“Our clients don’t want something that’s made in a factory,” Fritz said. “They want something that is custom tailored for them using the finest materials.”

Fritz was originally nominated for the annual BEST: Made in America Award and submitted his application in early April. But his work didn’t quite fit the award’s categories. His submission prompted the creation of the William Thorton Award.
“Essentially, our criteria for the other awards focused on manufacturing as opposed to craft,” said Jame DeLorbe, chairman and CEO of MADE: In America. “After reading Keith’s submission materials, it struck me that he is more like a modern-day 18th-century furniture maker. It helped us to realize that we should create a program and an award that will be focused on craft producers like Keith.”

Earning the award will provide Fritz with a national stage to showcase his work. The award comes with invitations to design competitions, show houses and other events.
“It’s kind of like Miss America for manufacturing,” Fritz said. “It’s not just the award. It’s an entire year’s worth of shows, events, marketing, publicity. It will be a great boost to our company and our community the entire year.”

Fritz said his company already is growing and the recognition will help it grow even more.

“We’ve done as much business this year as we did in all of 2009 and probably by August will have completed as much as we did all last year,” he said. “We’re very lucky. We’re growing.”

Fritz, who previously considered becoming a priest and attended Saint Meinrad Seminary, started his company in 1999 and operates out of the mixed-use building he owns in Ferdinand at 1440 Main St. His work can be seen in eight showrooms across the country including in Washington, D.C.,, Chicago, New York, Boston and Dallas.

“I think the crux of the story is Keith’s singular dedication and commitment to designing and creating a product here in America in a way that provides jobs, enriches a community and that serves as (an) exemplary model for how to reinvent the furniture industry here in the U.S.,” DeLorbe said.