Mike Coffey


“One of my goals when I’m building a piece of furniture is that, when you get it, if you decide to have children, your children will be fighting over who gets it when you pass away. That’s really important to me.”

To look at the bearded headshot on his website, you might think Mike Coffey, owner and proprietor of Coffey Custom Builds, grew up under the California sun whittling Adler branches into rocking horses, or smoothing sycamore into a canoe he rowed across Lake Tahoe. But Mike never expected to wind up in the furniture business: “My dad was, and still is, in construction,” he explained. “He always wanted something that was, in air quotes, better for me. Growing up, if anything, that crafting life was kind of pushed away from me.’”

What he did do a lot of? Get outside. “We were fortunate enough to be on a ton of property, with kids hanging out. We were kind of like feral children running around, not getting into trouble, just having fun and building forts.”

So maybe crafting wasn’t a forever passion, but Nature—the big kind, that conjures sweeping tree lines and 200 pound malamutes (he has one by the way, called “Luna”)—loomed large in the backdrop of Mike Coffey’s life and now, his business. Today, Mike operates Coffey Custom Builds from the site of an abandoned Christmas tree farm in El Dorado, California, a former gold rush camp situated at the base of the Sierra foothills two hours east of San Francisco. “Sometimes you can see snow on Tahoe from here,” he said. ‘Everything faces west, so you get this beautiful sunset every evening.”

Coffee’s woodworking journey began slowly: class here, a one-off project there. He remembers an early laptop stand undertaking that left him anxious. “I just overthought all of it.” Ultimately, the pull of the wood shop, his happy place away from his day job, became too powerful to ignore, and Mike began the gradual exodus from a full-time role in the family business to take on his furniture-making operation full-time. “Eventually I decided I had to just bet on myself,” he laughs.

For Mike, much of the allure of the work lies in the storytelling.“There’s a very emotional side to this business,” he explained. “Often, when I deliver a piece, one or both people start crying. The first time it happened I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. Now I think of it as an honor. This piece really means a lot to them.”

Coffey offers the example of a walnut dining table with a matching bench and set of chairs crafted from a felled walnut that had been stored in a family barn for years or even decades. “It was very likely that the tree had been planted by [ the client’s ] grandmother,” he explained. “She sent us this wood not knowing what she was going to get, and when it came back in the house, it was almost like a gift directly from her grandmother who had passed. It wasn’t our moment, but it was special that we got to be a part of it and help facilitate it.”

That fallen walnut tree, and salvaged and reclaimed pieces like it, set Mike Coffey’s business model apart from big box competitors that rely on factory machines to churn out low quality, assembly-line pieces. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, landfills received 12.2 million tons of wood in 2018 alone. “We’re so used to cheap furniture that we’ve just accepted yeah, there are going to be problems with it. But we’re getting a good price and were turning off our minds and hearts to the fact that it’s made in another country, and had to be shipped here, which has a huge environmental impact[...]. And that wood holds carbon, so when it rots, it releases the carbon back into the atmosphere. When we turn that wood into furniture it’s sequestered over a lifetime.”

That “we” includes the company’s three full-time employees, a number Mike hopes to expand as business scales to meet demand. Treating those employees well, and “as if they’re important—because they are,” is a priority for Coffey, who often goes back online to work after his six-year-old son has gone to sleep. “The thing is, when you buy a cheap dining table, someone is doing some back breaking labor at a wage that makes no sense to get you that table. My employees are skilled laborers, they’re trained and talented and they’re good at their jobs, and they’re not robots. They deserve to feel valued.”

To learn more, visit coffeycustombuilds.com.