The Schoenbauers are celebrating 25 years of sawdust and the smells of turpentine, stains and varnishes this year. The St. Mary’s family business, Schoenbauer Furniture Service in Charlotte Hall, is celebrating its silver anniversary, though the family’s involvement with wood furniture goes back further than that.
Carl Schoenbauer brought his cabinet making skills with him from Germany when he immigrated to the United States in 1896. He passed those woodworking skills down to his son, William Francis Schoenbauer, and those skills are still being passed down today to still more generations.
“He really wasn’t a furniture restorer, but a cabinet builder,” Bill (William Francis III) Schoenbauer said of his great-grandfather. “His son, my grandfather — he died when I was 2 — really started with the furniture restoration and that’s what my dad did. That’s what we’re doing now.”
Bill Schoenbauer started the current furniture restoration business with his wife, Debbie, in 1991 — she died a year and a half ago — after apprenticing under his father, Francis William Schoenbauer Jr., for more than 13 years. That business was F.W. Schoenbauer Repair, which continued until 2000 when the elder Schoenbauer decided to close up shop and work for his son, leaving him more time to spend with his wife, Pauline, who also began helping in the son’s office until Alzheimer’s made it impossible. He died in 2013 at the age of 81, and Pauline followed him a year later.
“He was working full time up until about two weeks before he passed away. We had to drag him out of here to the hospital,” his granddaughter, Katie Morgan, said. She’s been working in the business for 10 years, taking over office and bookkeeping duties when her mother died. She also handles commercial accounts and whatever else comes along.
Bill Schoenbauer, recounting a story that captured his dad’s work ethic, said that three years before his death he had cut off part of three fingers — the first such injury in all his years — on a table saw but couldn’t stay away from work, even at the age of 78.
“He was literally back to work the next day. He had this huge mitt [of gauze] on his hand and it was all completely covered in [wood] stain. I think he even caught it on fire once,” he said with a laugh, fondly remembering his father. “He was definitely from that [older] generation. He was a hard worker and, really, so dedicated to the business. He was great for these young guys to see as an example. He could do anything — he got all the hard jobs. We certainly miss him.”
The current business includes Georgetown Refinishing and Antique Restoration of Washington, D.C., which was purchased in 2007 and was brought to the Charlotte Hall shop. “Most of their work was in Northwest Washington [D.C.], Arlington [Va.] and Bethesda,” Schoenbauer said. “They had a really nice reputation for their upholstery work. They worked with a lot of decorators and designers. That part of the company does a lot of the antique restoration.”
Schoenbauer Furniture Service started out with at least 75 percent of its business from moving claims — damage to furniture during a move — but has since seen a shift to residential and private trade work which now makes up 50 percent of the work for its 20 employees. The company’s service area is most of Maryland and parts of Northern Virginia, though a lot of work comes from the Washington metropolitan area. “It seemed like whenever we went out and handled the moving claims, customers were always introducing us to more work,” Schoenbauer said. “So we started doing more of what we call residential or private trade work — refinishing and repair work.”
“We also handle insurance claims now and we do commercial work for law firms, restaurants, office buildings and things like that,” Morgan added. “I feel like the commercial, the insurance claims and the moving all make up the rest of the 50 percent.”
Along with the furniture, the Schoenbauers occasionally land an unusual job, like the one the shop is finishing up for the Historic Korean Legation Museum on Logan Circle in the District. The 1877 building is being restored back to its original look and the St. Mary’s shop is restoring and rebuilding the window shutters — all 300 of them. “All these shutters are being restored. Some of them have pieces missing and some are damaged beyond repair so we’re making new ones to match the existing shutters,” said manager Tony Chaffee, who has worked at Schoenbauer Furniture Service for nearly 19 years.
Currently, Bill and his brother, Mike, son-in-law, Jon DePompa, and Morgan work in the family business. Mike’s son, Mikey, has been interning in the summer. “We’ve enjoyed it,” Bill Schoenbauer said. “I’d like to see the family stay involved, if that’s what they want to do.”