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Crafted With Care

When Frank Carter is not piloting his homemade airplane over the skies of Parkton, and Steve Ford is not watching his son play baseball or fishing with him, both men are up to their knees in sawdust overseeing a business that crafts cabinets and furniture.

Carter and Ford operate C&F Custom Cabinets at 140 Sanders Road just off U.S. 301 in Hope Mills. The company specializes in custom-made kitchen and bath cabinets as well as custom furniture. Carter and Ford officially started their business on Feb. 21, 1987. Today, C&F has 19 employees, an 18,500-square-foot manufacturing facility and a 3,600-square-foot building housing a showroom and offices.

Carter runs the on-site operations at the facility. Ford is the outside man, in charge of making sure the cabinets are installed properly and customers are happy with the final product. “Frank and I are involved in every aspect. We follow up, and we always do what we tell people we will do,” Ford said.

The majority of custom-made cabinets are produced for customers in Cumberland County; however, Carter and Ford have been asked to build cabinets for customers who have moved away to locales in Virginia, the mountains of Tennessee and the shores of Myrtle Beach.

Customers include upscale homebuilders, individuals building their own homes or remodeling existing ones and business owners who want a traditional style in their offices or reception areas. The price of custom cabinets varies, depending on the size, the type of wood, the style of cabinets and, of course, the level of detail.

“We do very little commercial style, but more dentists and lawyers who like the warm wood look,” Carter said. He estimates that 60 to 70 percent of their business comes from the home-building industry.

Carter is a native of Hope Mills and a graduate of South View High School. Ford is from the hardworking, blue-collar neighborhood of Massey Hill. He graduated from South View’s cross-town rival, Douglas Byrd High School. The pair met while working for a waterbed and bedroom furniture company in Eastover. When the waterbed market declined, the company ventured into cabinets. Carter and Ford were asked to remain. The company eventually outgrew its Eastover location and moved to Angier, just south of Raleigh. Carter and Ford soon tired of the daily commute north.

The two often talked about starting their own business before either of them knew enough about such an enormous task. But their daily commute became a grind, and they decided to strike out on their own, first in a garage, then in a small metal building that previously served as an auto-repair shop near Fantasy Lake in Hope Mills.

“There was a pit in the middle of the floor where people worked under cars. We put a table over it,” Carter said.

Carter says the business has enjoyed a slow but steady growth during the past 20 years, and many of its employees have been with the company for most of that time.

When the pair first started, Carter and Ford built two sets of cabinets a month. Today, C&F Custom Cabinets produces the equivalent of two sets of cabinets every day. At any one time, employees are busy with about 20 jobs in some stage of production.

Computers play a key role. Carter has not one but two flat-screen monitors sitting on the credenza behind his executive work table.

“When I first started out, I never thought I would own a computer,” he said. “Now, everything goes through the computer process. We’re as automated as one can get and still produce a custom-made, hand-made product.”

In fact, customers help create their cabinetry on computers. In front of another double set of screens, a staff member walks them through the design process. But Carter always works out the final details.

“I want to know who we work for,” he said.

Cabinetry styles change over time. Ten years ago, everyone wanted white cabinets. Today, people are looking for traditional styles marked by cherry and maple and center islands that look more like pieces of furniture. Other popular woods include the tri-color calico hickory, heavy-grained oak and maple in both natural state or stained to give it the look of mahogany.

“We use all hardwoods in our products, just different species,” Carter said.

Despite the traditional look, there are modern aspects like drawers with pneumatic hinges that stop the drawer from slamming shut.

“We can do anything people want,” Carter said, “within reason.”