Made in America, headquartered in Asbury and no-tools assembly — it’d be pretty tough for a furniture line to meet all those requirements.

But local architect and designer Robert Feinstein’s Soapbox furniture line checks every one of those boxes. His minimalist, modern coffee tables, shelves and boxes are constructed of plywood slabs joined with steel corners — no tools, or even adhesive, necessary.

That’s right, Ikea doesn’t have a monopoly on hammer-less assembly, even though trying to put their products together might make you feel like a tool. Feinstein one-ups them not only with his easy-to-use product but also with his determination to keep manufacturing as local as possible.

It all started when Feinstein asked his father to build him a platform bed for his first apartment in college, back in the pre-Ikea days. They sought tool-less assembly and they were successful, needing just 16 screws and a 2×4 to put it all together.

Feinstein was at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design] at the time. His senior year of high school, he didn’t apply anywhere else but RISD — don’t tell his dad that — and after being waitlisted, he kept calling and calling until they let him in. He’d wanted to be an architect ever since he was little, when he and his father would park near the Hudson River to paint watercolors of the Manhattan skyline.

He started his own architecture practice after college and continued toying with the idea of tool-less assembly furniture. When commuting from his Asbury Park beach house to Hoboken years ago, he’d drive over the Pulaski Skyway and observe the architecture there for inspiration. He noted that everything came together at the corners. If he could find a way to connect the corners of his furniture, he figured, he wouldn’t need the maddening fasteners and dowels seen in other tool-less assembly furniture.

Then, he came across a New York Times story about digitally printing three-dimensional objects and figured this new technology would help him make some sort of corner fastener. He was lying in bed when the idea of digitally printed steel corners came to him.

“I don’t typically get up and hit my sketchbooks, ” he said. “It’s not like the movies. But this time, I did. I went downstairs to my office, drew a little picture and went back to bed.”

When he woke up the next morning, he realized he might be on to something. He made a cardboard prototype and had a friend bend some metal to build the corners.

Feinstein didn’t end up using a digital printer to manufacture the corner pieces, but he does credit that technology with inspiring him to find a more simplified approach. He decided it was more important to keep the manufacturing process in the United States — “more importantly, I wanted to create it in Asbury Park, ” he said.

Feinstein and his wife, Anne Feinstein, lived in Hoboken for years before moving to Asbury Park full-time. The creativity in Asbury reminded him of Hoboken in the early 1990s, a time when he shared a warehouse with 10 or 12 other artists and designers while working in architecture. He and his wife also owned a restaurant in Hoboken, Company, before selling.

“It was the right energy and I was missing that up north, ” Feinstein said. He and his family bought the house 13 years ago and moved to Asbury permanently when the real estate market crashed.

He still works as design director at Studio One in Union City and operates Soapbox out of a warehouse on Asbury Avenue. A craftsman in Garwood bends the metal for him and another living in North Jersey powder-coats the pieces. A Wall man cuts the plywood boards. All of the materials are taken to the shop on Asbury Avenue, where Feinstein hand-finishes the plywood, which is from the Pacific Northwest. The oils he uses are from Ohio.

His wife is his business partner, handling orders and customer contact. Everything is shipped out of Asbury Avenue.

They launched in May 2012 and have enjoyed acclaim from the design blogosphere. They “had a great summer, ” Feinstein said, and are looking to launch some more products by the end of the year, including wall hooks and shelves.

Natalia Zahn, a fellow RISD grad who Feinstein met years later through his sister’s boyfriend, designed their logo, which uses an old German architectural font. The name Soapbox comes from Feinstein’s semester abroad in London, where he learned about speakers in Hyde Park who would stand on a soapbox to avoid committing treason by speaking ill of the Crown while standing on British soil.

“I said, ‘This is what I’m going to stand up for, ’” Feinstein said. “I’m going to make products in America. I’m going to make them in New Jersey and I’m going to make them in Asbury for as long as I possibly can … I’m not going to stand on my soapbox, I’m just going to make good decisions and I hope you will.”


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    stay the same tables and other guys, it’s been my career.
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    2 Is the restaurant. Step 6 Eat nigiri sushi with your table-mates?
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  2. Elaine says:

    I LOVE these corners! Back in the 70’s I bought black plastic ones to make myself a sewing desk with storage shelves. I used 1×12″ boards and a flat door. I’ve been wondering if they are still available and came upon a sample cabinet in a store in Asbury Park, NJ. I’m so happy to find them again (new and improved) as I want to make shelving for my family room.

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