Smooth, hand-sanded, Appalachian hardwood pew ends stacked high waiting for custom bench seats welcome visitors to Hall Furniture‘s work shop in Henderson, Texas. The company has produced custom church and courthouse pieces since 1939.
"Each order is customized for the church or community ordering it," says Steve Strain, the owner of this hidden gem of artistry in the Piney Woods.
The Hall family ran the company until 2003 when retirement led Strain to this new avenue in his life. He is a life-long carpenter and church business person.
"Buying this company seems like the way I was being led."
His woodworking eye keeps the company producing one-of-a-kind chancel furniture that is shipped all over the country.
"We build a lot for local churches, but also for Oregon, New York, and Florida," Strain explains.
Local for this worker means Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico. The company of 17 members consists of carpenters, upholsters, painters and artists. Some workers have been at Hall for more than 20 years and their hands have touched hundreds of church families in the United States. The company even has pieces in churches only miles from the Canadian border in North Dakota.
Starting with inspiration for Mission Builders, a group of men that work to build new churches in America, Strain was inspired by the beauty of the products he saw coming from Hall Manufacturing in Henderson as he began to know them as a customer. Now, as the vendor, he sees many changes in what the communities need.
"The small country churches are struggling as larger churches have more money for family programs," Strain explains.
There is a card index of every church the company has built for and repeat business keeps coming. Churches, like to keep the look and feel of their home church, he said.
The workmanship of the pieces they order are watched by each member of the Hall team as they are worked towards completion. Local churches like Calvary Baptist Church in Henderson have installed pews and offering tables, but they are not the only new business looking for a product of majestic beauty.
Courthouses, especially those that are in historic renovation, are calling Strain and his woodsmen to create a quality piece of furniture to reflect the authority and solemn nature of their business. Hall Furniture has created courtrooms for Anderson and Smith County and is bidding on counties all over Texas.
"I think customers are surprised at the quality and time put into each piece," Strain said. "Especially since most just look at a selection on the Internet before they order."
Church and state meet in the majesty of this beautiful furniture that is handcrafted to meet each chapel or courtroom’s needs. Strain said he’s becoming more educated in the devotion and character of almost every denomination and religion his company has touched. His work evolves based on the needs of their chapel or church in regards to the look, feel, and presence of its pews, communion racks, offering tables and chancel needs.
"One church will want cushioned pews and one will not. Some churches need the cup holders, pencil holes, and book racks in the pews. Others remove all that," Strain explains as he walks through workbenches and pieces of an eight-foot pulpit being built to replicate one they built for the famous pastor, T.D. Jakes.
Pew cushions are attached by hand and colors chosen by church families, each detail designed for the need of the people. Late fall and Easter are the busy times, but orders come in all year as churches build and historic preservation teams make plans.
"We are blessed to stay a while in the building of their church or community," Strain said.