Boxco Studio carries on manufacturing tradition in Greenfield

By EVELINE MACDOUGALL

For the Recorder

Published: 05-03-2023 12:11 PM

Unless you search for it, you might miss a long, narrow building tucked into a Greenfield neighborhood. The structure holds significant history: for more than a century, specialty paper boxes were manufactured there, originally on coal-powered, belt-driven machines. The Greenfield Paper Box Co. was founded by French-Canadian immigrants around the turn of the last century, and remained in business until 2018.

The Pierce Street site now houses Boxco Studio, co-owned by Gallagher Hannan and David Erickson. The business is turning heads and capturing hearts with innovative approaches to kitchen design as well as other home projects; the dynamic team of young people who make up the operation gracefully juggle beauty, form, function, affordability, quality-of-life issues and concern for the environment.

Hannan and Erickson purchased the building in 2020, as well as the home that sits in front of the manufacturing space. The couple and their 2-year-old daughter, Maeve, have taken a shine to the location; Hannan and Erickson can roll out their back door and get right to work designing and building for a growing clientele throughout the Northeast.

“The original owners and subsequent generations kept adding to the building, like a Frankenstein project,” said Erickson. “We love continuing the manufacturing tradition in a place with a history of precision machining and manufacturing.”

Hannan, Erickson and their team make bigger, more substantial boxes as they design and fabricate custom cabinetry, kitchen elements and other furniture.

“We create functional modern spaces that are simple, refined and inviting,” Hannan said. “We’re as excited about the function and performance of our products and spaces as we are about their aesthetic design.”

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Hannan and Erickson emphasize that while their products are intentionally simple, making a simple design look fabulous requires great attention to detail.

Boxco Studio’s Marketing Director Bel Muller emphasized that the company’s niche design is a far cry from “prefab or a cookie-cutter approach.” And when it comes to helping people with home projects, Muller said, “It can be challenging to put a modern kitchen into an old house.” But Boxco helps people with great success: “People love our designs and colors,” Muller said.

Boxco’s success is part human-interest story and part high-tech. On the human side, the six-person crew represents a diverse set of skills and interests.

Hannan, 37, grew up in Concord and worked in various fields, including cooking and gardening, before studying at the Conway School of Landscape Design. She loves exploring western Massachusetts — especially by bicycle — and prioritizes quality of life for herself, her colleagues and clients.

Her husband, co-parent and co-owner has a design background, too, and worked as a builder starting in 2012. Erickson, 38, grew up in eastern Massachusetts, as well. “I went to NYU for film and TV production, and worked in that field for years,” he said. Erickson then attended the North Bennet Street School, a private vocational institute in Boston, and studied furniture design at MassArt. He enjoys mountain bike outings with Oslo, a canine companion.

Muller, 30, grew up in nearby Conway, and has returned to the area after a decade in California, where she studied and then worked as an interior designer, based in Santa Barbara. Like her colleagues, she loves to spend time outside.

One of Boxco’s two cabinet makers, Claire Jenison, 33, grew up in Texas and studied sculpture and photography at SUNY Purchase in New York. She enjoys hanging out with her two dogs, and making rugs out of old sweatshirts and T-shirts.

Morgan Thomson, 34, initially came on board as a maintenance person, but was asked to stay on as a cabinet maker. A native of Rockland, Thomson enjoys window restoration as a hobby, and plays guitar and drums.

Office manager Kat O’Brien, 30, is also a musician. A trained cellist, she grew up in Denver, Colorado, and recently moved to Greenfield. O’Brien also works as a bartender and karaoke DJ at 10 Forward, a live music venue on Fiske Avenue.

Boxco’s impressive array of human talent is boosted by 21st-century technology, and the Boxco story will fascinate anyone who is avid about maximizing efficiency while minimizing waste.

The company uses a huge apparatus linked to a CNC router. “Computer numerical control,” said Erickson. “I’d never worked with it before we started Boxco, but it’s integral to our business.”

The router operates in a three-axis universe: the X-axis for forward-to-back, the Y-axis for left-to-right, and the Z-axis for up-and-down. Erickson found the machine on an auction website.

“It’s an old machine, as these things go,” he said. “This one’s from 1998. It’s intended for high-end large shops. The software has changed many times, but not the machine itself.”

The apparatus allows the Boxco team to use every possible inch of plywood, and the automatic tool changer swaps out eight different tools. As the tools are alternately inserted into a spindle, a vacuum table holds the wood in place.

It’s a lot of technology, but it results in warm, inviting products.

“We go for minimalism in modern design,” said Hannan. “What we produce, however, is not cold or sterile, but truly joyful.”

She classifies their products as Scandinavian style, mid-century.

Erickson asks customers, “How do you use your kitchen?” Hannan added, “Then we ask, ‘What do you find you never have storage for?’ That’s an essential question.”

From the final drawings phase to delivery, a Boxco customer can expect the job done in eight to 12 weeks, said Hannan. “We also do bathrooms, closets and bookshelves. We can help change the floor plan of a house, as well as recommend tile, lighting and other details.” She added, “We’re not specifically an interior design firm, but we do consultations.”

Erickson and Hannan worked in the design/build business in Lowell for seven years before coming to Greenfield.

“We closed on our new location in January of 2020,” said Erickson. “Within a few weeks, the pandemic transformed our lives. On the one hand, people were interested in remodeling, given that many were spending more time at home. So there was a boon in that regard. On the other hand, though, we experienced supply-chain interruptions, given that we use a lot of plywood.”

Boxco uses ¾-inch Baltic birch plywood for fronts and finishes its pieces with maple veneer.

“We get a lot of our materials from Garnica, a European company operating in Spain and France,” said Erickson. “We appreciate their sustainability initiatives; they make cores from poplar and eucalyptus [trees], which sequester carbon at high rates.”

Boxco also uses a fiberboard product made of 92% recycled wood, milled by a company in Washington state.

“It’s called Medex,” said Hannan, “a type of MDF [medium-density fiberboard] made of sawdust that’s compressed under high pressure.”

Hannan and Erickson praise Medex’s formaldehyde-free make-up.

“That goes along with our other processes and products,” said Hannan. “The waxes and oils we use are safe for kitchens and kids.”

Boxco opts for natural products, including oils made from linseed, thistle, sunflower and soy. “There’s no off-gassing,” said Hannan.

Erickson added that they don’t have a spray booth. “It’s all applied by hand.” Boxco uses a hard oil wax finish called Osmo that comes in clear or in primary colors, which the team mixes into an infinite array of hues.

“We want everything we do to be both resilient and regenerative,” said Hannan. “And as we combine computer-aided design and precise fabrication with hand finishing, we can operate with a small team while maintaining a high level of quality, customization and beauty.”

The French-Canadians who arrived here around 1900 to manufacture smaller boxes would be proud of the Boxco team for continuing in the tradition of making practical, beautiful items for use by people in their vibrant community and region.

Eveline MacDougall is the author of “Fiery Hope” and a musician, artist and mom. She welcomes comments and story tips at eveline@amandlachorus.org.

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