Palmer Hamilton builds custom furniture for companies across the world

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Andrea Anderson
Saturday, June 14, 2014

ELKHORN—Tucked away in an Elkhorn neighborhood at Jackson and Marshall Streets is Palmer Hamilton, a manufacturer of cafeteria tables and sleek furniture.

It is one of six companies in North America producing cafeteria tables and food court furniture, said Scott Bucklin, director of operations.

“We're the premium,” Bucklin said. “We make the best tables. We won't make the cheapest, but we make the best.”

Inside the 150,000-square-foot building, drills, welding and sewing machines and other manufacturing tools make a ruckus. Outside, chirping birds mask the distant hum of machines.

The business started in 1945 as Hamilton Industries in Twin Rivers. In the 1980s, it moved to 143 S. Jackson St., Elkhorn.

It initially produced only cafeteria tables and gradually evolved to include mobile and customizable cafeteria tables, booths, outdoor furniture and fancier furniture that fit the college study lounge or restaurant environment.

Bucklin described it as “designer decor."

"It is very much a fashion industry," Bucklin said. "If somebody says, 'Hey, I'm looking for some tables, and I need them with this capability, but I also need something that's higher end,' we can go both ways."

The company ships products internationally and made custom cafeteria tables for schools in Elkhorn and Williams Bay.

In 2013, the company partnered with Connection, a United Kingdom-based company producing more contemporary commercial furniture, such as modern chairs, cubbies and tables.

Starting three months ago, Palmer Hamilton builds, upholsters and distributes a line of products called Hive.

Connection also produces Hive products.

One of the several Hive products the Elkhorn company builds is the 90 Degree Pod. It's a circular booth with a table in the middle, cushioned and colored seating and a wall on top of the seating.

The upholstery is done on site in a recently remodeled 6,000-square-foot space  previously used for storage. The company has three full-time upholsterers.

Earlier Thursday, the upholsterers made a custom order for Dell, the technology company.

“It's a big challenge for us,” Deb Lukaszewski said. “We get to see this product from start to finish and say we built that.”

It's a team effort, too.

“We bounce ideas off of each other all the time,” Sharyn Stark, said.

The two women and Alfred Huaman build Hive products from sheets of plywood all the way to final stitches.

The company tries to stay as local as possible. It purchases its steel, wood and other production products from Wisconsin or northern Illinois companies, Bucklin said.

"It makes us flexible and more responsive to our customers," he said.

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