Meet the Amish Woodworkers: Albert Barkman

Debra Gingerich 09/03/2016

Sometimes customers ask us how a company selling Amish furniture ended up in Sarasota, Florida. Though the furniture we sell is not made here (it’s made by Amish woodworkers in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Ohio), Sarasota has a thriving Amish and Mennonite community. That’s one of the reasons why we’re here. During the winter months, the Sarasota enclave of Pinecraft busts at the seams with Amish taking breaks from austere winters up north. Tricycles (the mode of transportation for Amish here) pack the bicycle lanes. Long lines of customers twist and turn outside of Der Dutchman and Yoder’s restaurants.

Barkman Furniture Collection

Albert Barkman, the owner of Barkman Furniture in Ohio, received a special gift from his employees this past Christmas: a vacation in sunny Sarasota. So he and his wife stepped into our store a couple weeks ago to check out how we’ve displayed his pieces and talk about his furniture.

Albert Barkman in DutchCrafters Store

Albert greeted the staff in our Sarasota, Florida store, sitting around Barkman Furniture Collection pieces.

Barkman Rippleback Chair

Albert Barkman rested his jacket and hat on one of his Ripple Back Bar Stools, paired here with the Ripple Back Pedestal Table.

Like most Amish folk, Albert was born and raised on a farm but didn’t have an interest in farming as he grew older. At age 16, he started learning the furniture business, working for a cousin for a couple years. After that experience, he spent about 15 years making armoires for big-name companies such as Arhaus. In 2004, he started his own business and has been building a catalog of unique furniture pieces that he designs himself, along with his general manager. Like most businesses in the Amish community, this is a family affair. Two of his 11 children work for him, and his brother-in-law welds the tables’ steal bases.

Planked Live Edge Bar Table with Steel T-Base

The Live Edge Bar Table includes a steel base built by Albert’s brother-in-law.

Style Meets Function

Albert’s beard, a must-have for married Amish men, is not the typical untrimmed beard covering his neck but clipped like a goatee (less the mustache, of course). He is a man with a sense of style and that comes through in his furniture designs. They are contemporary with sleek lines and masterful curves. He is not satisfied to settle with forms that everyone else is building. He listens to his customers and researches the furniture-design industry in publications such as Furniture Today and Furniture World. His goal, in his own words, is to “stay ahead of the trend.” But design is hardly his only concern. Part of his wood shop’s mission is to craft furniture “worthy of being handed down from one generation of your family to the next.” When he designs a new piece, he creates the design, builds and tests the piece, and then finalizes the design to ensure the most durable construction. The dining room tables are finished on the bottom the same as they are on top. Every part of the furniture gets personal attention, ending with a hand-applied finish, never sprayed.

Amish Christy Dining Chair

Albert demonstrated the strength of the Christy Dining Chair by tilting it over and standing on its base.

When I asked him what we liked best about furniture making, he said that is was getting out and talking to people about his furniture. “I feel good about our product,” he said. “So it is easy to sell.”

More to See

See all of the products available from the Barkman Furniture Collection.

Amish Chesapeaka Queen Bedroom Set

The Chesakeaka Bedroom Set is a wonderful illustration of Albert’s furniture design skills, with a striking combination of brown maple and tiger maple wood. It’s also a fun “lost in translation” example. Albert’s mother-tongue is Pennsylvania Dutch, a German dialect spoken by the Amish and some Mennonites. When he named this line of furniture, he spelled “Chesapeaka” the way his ear heard it, later to discover it was misspelled.

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