In 2002, Tom Gallenberg opened his wood working business in the small town of White Lake, Wisconsin in eastern Langlade County. Tom was raised in Antigo and spent most of his life in and around the agriculture community which, of course, is a vital part of Langlade County’s economic development composition. But Tom had an itch that he needed to scratch, and not until he was in his early-forties, did he establish Gallenberg Studio, a businesses that has become a Wisconsin success story.
Tom fell in love with woodworking, particularly what is known as the American Arts & Crafts style of architecture. As he became more interested in this approach, Tom began to study some of the preeminent thought leaders in the field including the early influencers Charles and Henry Greene of the famed California architectural firm Greene & Greene. But initially, Tom was his own thought leader, teaching himself the tools of the trade, experimenting with different woods, styles, products, designs and different ways of marketing. As he has said about learning the craft, “The mistakes you make is where you gain and learn the most.” Today, Tom is one of only a handful of wood designers specializing in the American Arts & Crafts style, and has won numerous awards for his wide range of products.
At first it was a dining room set for himself, but that didn’t last long as a buyer convinced Tom to sell it. Shortly thereafter, Tom was doing contract work for clients in the Fox Valley, and as his name and reputation grew, he started displaying his products at trade shows and local art fairs.
Product Line Expands
Through furniture shows, art fairs and word-of-mouth referrals, requests for Gallenberg Studio products steadily rose. Dining room sets grew into bedroom furniture, and office furniture, living rooms, recreational furniture such as bar areas, custom cabinetry, custom lighting fixtures, screen doors and custom entry doors of extraordinary detail. Each piece created by Gallenberg Studio is an original, no two are the same, and Tom supervises the design, construction and installation of every custom order.
When the recession struck in 2008, the realities of business ownership set in. For instance, at the Milwaukee Fine Furniture Show, all indications were that the show was a huge success for Gallenberg Studio, and the production funnel seemed to be at capacity for the year. But then, one-by-one, orders were cancelled, and production was cut in half without much notice.
Undeterred, Tom began to focus his attention on other products, especially custom doors, lighting and leaded glasswork. As the market has rebounded, Gallenberg Studios is back to being aggressive in its trade show participation attending shows in Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Asheville. Of course, the company still participates in shows in the northern Wisconsin area, too.
“Find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.” Tom Gallenberg is fond of saying that, particularly to students of woodworking who he famously mentors. In spite of the fact that Gallenberg Studios works on 30-40 projects each year, and, in some cases, a custom door project can take a month or more to complete, Tom has always found time to share his talents and experience with students from Northcentral Technical College’s Wood Technology Center of Excellence in Antigo. In fact, Tom was instrumental in the development of the Wood Technology Center consulting on machinery and classes. According to Travis Allen, the Center’s Director, “Tom Gallenberg was and continues to be a huge supporter of ours. He’s a tremendous industry source we relied on, and he continues to be a resource for us as he teaches our students the details of his profession.”
That’s all in a day’s work for Tom Gallenberg, “At one time, there were a lot of skilled craftsmen using their hands and their head. There aren’t as many anymore so by teaching these students, my hope is that we don’t lose these valuable skill sets.” All indications are that the Wood Technology Center of Excellence will do just that. With 28,000 square feet of space, and a capacity to graduate 32 students each year with an Associate Degree, there is no other facility of its kind in North America.
Tom is also proud of the work Gallenberg Studio is doing for Langlade Hospital. A majestic cherry tree was carefully removed for the hospital’s property to allow for a new facility, and Gallenberg Studio was commissioned to design and produce an altar, lectern, Priest’s chair and door for the Chapel, as well as benches and a fireplace mantel for the entrance foyer.
On Langlade County
Tom speaks passionately about his fondness for Langlade County. He enjoys the four seasons and the quality of life. “The economics here are conducive to doing business. I find it to be very low cost to do business in this area, and recommend it highly.” In an interesting way, Tom would know. He’s made many friends in his business career, from all over the country, and because many of his projects require so much time to design, produce and install, he frequently stays at the residences of the people who commission his work. But in the end, he always looks forward to coming home.