Leather Cabinets | Journal Record Article


OKLAHOMA CITY – Keeping a small business alive, especially in a down economy, requires innovative thinking. When Karen Black and her staff did that, they came up with a product that not only boosted their company, but stood out as unique in her profession.  Black, owner of A Karen Black Company, an interior design and manufacturing business in Oklahoma City, has built her firm over 26 years. She moved from contracting out her work to bringing it in-house and hiring people who were more craftsmen than construction workers. But with the economic downturn, it became apparent that either one of Black’s nine employees would have to be let go, or they would all have to take a 10-percent pay cut. “It was unanimous – we all decided to take the 10-percent pay cut,” Black said.  “After that, we decided we needed to create more work for ourselves instead of waiting for it to come to us.” The result was leather cabinetry.  Black said she’d already been using leather in small amounts, such as insert panels in wood wainscoting, but one day she realized she could use leather to create entire cabinet doors. As it turns out, no one else was thinking along those same lines. “We Googled it, and there was nothing there,” she said. “We were thrilled with that.” Black now has three patents pending for the use of leather or other materials to cover cabinet doors. She’s enjoyed getting to know the qualities of leather and its look and feel as a cabinet cover. She buys hides from a tannery on the East Coast, making sure that the animal was used for other purposes and wasn’t just killed for its hide. She buys in small amounts so that each hide is one-of-a-kind, not several hides melded together. Some hides are ordered with embossing, so that a steer hide looks like alligator. It’s a luxurious appearance, she said, but still affordable.  “It’s very good for a theater room or rec room that would have a kitchen, or a bar with a kitchen,” she said. The only enemy of leather cabinetry is a knife, and even that would have to be deliberately used, she said. “When you think of a horseman’s saddle, he would hang it on the fence, and when it rained, it would dry out,” Black said. “It’s durable. “You also think about leather shoes – I’ve had one pair for 12 years.”  Black’s three door styles awaiting a patent can be created with dozens of different leathers. One style has an Italian feel, another a contemporary look, and the third a Mediterranean feel. Next up is a Western series, she said. Although the product is new, Black said she’s hopeful it’s another tool to help her create customized designs. That it has brought her company and staff through a down year is even better. “We’re all so connected,” she said. “We had to work hard together; it just didn’t come easy. You feed off that. If everything is always easy in life, it’s a different type of motivation than when it’s a little harder for you and you have to work for it.”

Angela Daniels