Jason Burhop’s background isn’t in furniture design, cabinetry, or even carpentry. That certainly hasn’t slowed his business down.
“I did a liberal arts degree – psychology – at Queens. I always had a general interest in building and worked in construction and renovation during my summers,” he explained. “I had a friend put himself through law school at McGill by making custom furniture. He got a job right out of school and couldn’t fulfill his contracts anymore. He gave me access to his workshop and taught me how to do it over the phone.”
He basically got started out of curiosity. Having frequently worked for himself going up – mowing lawns around the neighbourhood and such – starting his own business was a natural fit.
“When Kastella got started in 2003, it was me, an apprentice, and my mom running our retail space – it was something for her to do after she retired,” said Burhop.
That was how small Kastella was when Burhop got started building custom furniture and selling from their retail space, and the company’s done nothing but grow since then. Now, they split their business down the middle – about 50% of their work is retail furniture, and the other 50% is millwork. The real fun happens when they get to combine the two and do custom work.
“We get about one project a year where we get to do the entire home – the furniture, kitchen cabinetry, bathroom vanities, millwork, paneling, storage – even the outdoor furniture,” said Burhop. “It allows us to keep control of the aesthetic. We get to work with some really amazing clients, architects, and general contractors. Some of the best in the province. It’s a win for everyone.”
A project like that is no small undertaking.
“It can be about two years all told, plus six months of planning. We can be in production for nine to twelve months. Installation alone can be about two months for two to three people,” said Burhop. “It’s a big project, but our team can handle it. Good stuff doesn’t happen without good people.”
Local has always been an essential part of Kastella’s raison d’être.
“Supporting local business is crucial to any economy,” explained Burhop. “We noticed a lack of locally made solid wood furniture in Montreal, and we wanted to fill that gap.”
And that’s what they’re doing: about 80% of their retail furniture sales stay in Quebec. About 10% make it to Toronto, and maybe another 10% make it as far as New England. Their custom millwork, however, is almost entirely local. This is a conscious choice. Burhop has had opportunities to grow his business further, but doing so would mean compromising on some non-negotiables.
“We don’t want to outsource manufacturing to outside of Quebec; we want to keep that handmade quality. One of our founding philosophies was to do things right,” explained Burhop. “When you’re reliant on the local talent pool, expenses are higher, but it’s worth it.”
What comes out is a higher quality product, and quality has always been valued over quantity at Kastella.
“Growing too big means giving up some control over the production. It’s rewarding to build something going to last in a short-term, disposable world,” said Burhop. “There’s a return on investment that is not monetary.”
That was my favourite quote of the interview, perfectly capturing Burhop’s commitment to his craft and beliefs.
Kastella has been operating at capacity for the last two to three years, and there is no sign of slowing down, thanks to the ever-growing interest in buying local.
“Now, my wife runs the retail side, and I take care of production. We have about 23 people in the company,” said Burhop. “We still do a lot of custom work. Client satisfaction is crucial to us. We want to build people the things that they need, the things that they want. We want that connection to be there – for the person who made the chair to deliver it.”
It’s hard to get more local than that.