Family and furniture drive Yalie

Kerry Triffin ’67 GRD ’70 and his wife Elizabeth Orsini, top, have co-owned and operated Fairhaven Furniture for over 30 years now.
Kerry Triffin ’67 GRD ’70 and his wife Elizabeth Orsini, top, have co-owned and operated Fairhaven Furniture for over 30 years now. Photo by Traci Tillman.

Kerry Triffin ’67 GRD ’70 finds poetry in his furniture business.

“It’s interesting,” said the former creative writing student. “There’s a chance for lyricism instead of just prose.”

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Since attending Yale College and studying at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Triffin has branched out to the business of woodwork. For more than 30 years, he and his wife, Elizabeth Orsini, have co-owned Fairhaven Furniture, a small store on Blatchley Avenue that specializes in wood-based furniture and gifts.

The low hum of folk music plays in the background in the gifts and accessories room on the store’s first floor. In the first-floor gallery, which displays numerous pieces of eccentric wood work, there is a sculpture of an elderly woman etched in a tree trunk and classical music plays. On the floor below there is rare furniture such as the “Ingas Slab Table”— a dining table made from a large wooden slab.

The store is an homage to Triffin’s passion for wood.

“I always had a brotherly feeling about trees,” Triffin said. “You could say from cradle to the grave and all along in between, we use and contact wood.”

PASSION FOR PINE

Triffin and Orsini currently buy furniture and accessory items from about 150 different suppliers, who range from large companies, like Lee Industries and Palecek, to small “one-man” wood shops. Triffin said he constantly networks with many different woodworkers and attends craft shows to acquire new products.

“There’s some furniture that’s like a wife or a husband: You’d like it to go down the stream of life with you,” Triffin said. “With that furniture, it’s obvious that a human being made that — a machine wouldn’t have a clue. It was chosen with intentionality— it’s almost like you’re touching the person who made it.”

Triffin said the store’s revenue has increased by about 15 percent over the past three years.

But as child, Triffin said he never would have believed he would one day own a furniture store, though he has always had a fascination with trees.

As a child growing up in Connecticut, Triffin would spend his free time pruning and climbing trees, he said, and despite his mother’s warnings, he would even go out to climb in storms. His first employer, Walgren Tree Experts in Hartford, even hired him to climb trees to inspect them.

But as an undergraduate, Triffin said he didn’t pursue his passion for pine except for an occasional hike.

“I just wasn’t thinking about the [furniture] business then,” he said. “Not at that time.”

Triffin’s interest in entrepreneurship began shortly after he received his administrative sciences degree in 1970. Though he had intended to go into consulting, after opening his own water-bed store in Fair Haven to gain business experience, he said the independence of entrepreneurship captivated him.

“You never get to clock in and clock out,” he said. “It’s pretty demanding and pretty interesting.”

After “the hey day back in the early ’70s” of water beds, Triffin said he opened vegetarian restaurant Down to Earth, also in Fair Haven, with nine other people, one of whom became his wife.

THE BUSINESS NOW

After the two married and had their daughter, Triffin worked at home building bookcases, which he sold to Yale students from the roof of his car. He chose to work at home, he said, because he did not want miss his daughter’s first time crawling.

The bookcases were a hit. “They sold like hotcakes,” he said. The popularity of Triffin’s bookcases convinced him to open Fairhaven Furniture more than 30 years ago, Orsini said.

After a few years Triffin outgrew his basement workplace and set up shop on Clinton Avenue, but he moved shortly after to the store on Blatchley Avenue, where Fairhaven Furniture remains today.

Over the years Triffin expanded the business, Orsini said. In 1993, he added gifts and accessories to the store and Orsini said she is responsible for that section of the business. Orsini said the store’s gifts and accessories section attracts a steady flow of customers even when the furniture side of the business is not.

After 30 years, Fairhaven Furniture is a “small, daily happy business” that finds customers through word-of-mouth, Triffin said.

One customer pointed to a wooden wardrobe and said to her husband, “How cool is that? We’re definitely going to bring my mother [to the store]!”

Orsini said her search for innovative lamps and other accessories for the store has taken her to wholesale shows in Vermont, New York, San Francisco, and Toronto.

Triffin and Orsini said they prefer the work of little-known woodworkers and artisans over that of larger corporations. The smaller companies and solitary woodworkers often create “cutting-edge” products, Triffin said.

‘HIKERS CROSSING PATH’

With retirement on the horizon, Triffin said one thing he would miss about the business is his interactions with customers. Not terribly motivated by “the almighty dollar,” Triffin said he prefers developing a “human relationship” with each customer through conversation rather than focusing only on closing the sale.

“It’s like hikers crossing path,” Triffin said. “You can just cross and ignore each other or have an exchange.”

Still, he said he is interested in focusing on other interests he has neglected since becoming a storeowner, he said.

“I am looking and saying, there are other aspects of life I maybe should go back and explore,” Triffin said. “Plane geometry, creative writing, I haven’t done [those] in a long time.”

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