Everything Airika and Max Kolenda sell is designed, developed and manufactured in a pole barn in Byron Center. Courtesy Markarios Decor
Max and Airika Kolenda have found a growing measure of satisfaction from chasing creativity and pushing their limits, and it’s starting to pay off.
The husband-and-wife team founded Makarios Décor in 2014, making wood signs and throw pillows for the home.
According to their website, “Makarios” is a Greek word found in the Gospel of Matthew in the Christian Bible that means “blessed” or “self-contained happiness.”
The word is an allusion to “the big picture” of their faith, which they said underpins everything they do and fuels what they see as a “calling from God” to be creative, make quality and inspirational products, build relationships and conduct their business with integrity.
Five-plus years into the business, they have expanded their product catalog to include a broad range of home décor items, including barnwood signs, wine barrel coffee tables, coat hook units, mantels, floating shelves, custom furniture, yard signs and home accents, as well as wedding packages and corporate merchandise.
The couple has a small wholesale side of the business to get its products into other stores, and it also sells goods on websites such as Amazon and Wayfair.
Everything they sell, Max Kolenda said, is designed, developed and manufactured in a 10,000-square-foot pole barn makerspace they built about two years ago on their home property in Byron Center.
“It was always a home (operation) out of a pole barn; we just went to the next and bigger home with a bigger barn every time we grew,” he said.
Max Kolenda, who formerly worked in corporate sales, is a self-taught woodworker who found faith as an adult and felt a nudge to do something more creative and fulfilling with his life. He described his wife, a former nurse, as a highly independent self-starter who is adept at teaching herself new skills.
He does all the production with the assistance of five employees in the shop, while she designs the signs and prints and manages their e-commerce store at shopmakarios.com.
Last month, the pair opened a retail store, also called Makarios Décor, in the JC Penney wing at Woodland Mall, 3195 28th St. SE in Grand Rapids. They have hired six employees to staff it.
The Kolendas also are taking applications to hire more workers for the makerspace with their ideal candidates being “strong-willed” and goal-driven, Max Kolenda said.
“We’re looking for individuals who are creators and also understand the process of hard work and can handle the grit of the day-to-day in making a bigger project come to reality,” he said. “It’s not about seeing an instant process from your hands but to be a part of the bigger picture and to see the ultimate projects come to life.”
Over the years, the Kolendas slowly challenged themselves to do more and more complex custom projects in response to demand — including “higher-end” orders from hotels, restaurants and individual clients — while also scaling their retail shipping footprint to about 35 countries.
“Once we started getting our bearings and understanding how to run the company effectively and efficiently starting just last year … we purchased an extremely high-end laser,” Max Kolenda said.
“That’s now our new baby for innovation and product development. Now, we’ve got this machine that is hundreds of thousands of dollars that allows us the capabilities of creating almost anything to extreme detail.”
Visitors to their Woodland Mall shop can see their largest tangible result of the laser machine: a massive long table with the entire Gospel of Matthew engraved on it — 80,000 words in all. The product took a year to plan and conceptualize with the actual engraving process finished in only a week, thanks to the laser.
The couple had so much fun creating the biblical table that they’re not stopping at just one.
“We’ve got plans to make every book of the Bible,” Max Kolenda said.
“We’ve also got plans to make tables with huge United States eagle crest seals with the entire articles of the Constitution on them, and we’ve got plans to work with bigger outfits, like Google and Ferrari and other big guys, to make large conference room tables with their mission statements pushed into them. We’ve got a lot of things that are starting to come to reality. It’s really cool and going to be fun to see where the future sets us off.”
As of press time, the couple was waiting to hear back from a late famous architect’s foundation about securing exclusive rights to create lighting, furniture, wall panels and artwork from designs by the architect that, in many cases, were never brought to fruition.
If the deal goes through, Max Kolenda said he expects Makarios would receive about 4,000 to 5,000 orders per year to make those designs into private label products for the foundation.
While taking on big projects requires woodworking businesses to have scaled to a certain level with machinery and logistics, Max Kolenda said production is probably the easiest part of a furniture and home décor business.
“I always tell everyone the easiest part of (running your own company or being an entrepreneur) is actually building the product because that’s what everyone has their confidence and focus on is the actual product. The hard part is turning the wheel to get the whole thing going: selling, managing it, organizing it and keeping it together,” he said.
Max Kolenda said Makarios runs on a simple philosophy: “Don’t focus on the money but focus on where your heart leads you and focus on doing business the right way, which is what led us to where we’re at.”
“The company will continue to be a vehicle for us to create and make neat things for the world, and we would love for others to reach out to us, to try to push our boundaries and test us at making things that have never been made before,” he said.
“Our motto is ‘Live redefined,’ and what we mean by that is to redefine your space that you’re living in, whether it’s with a table that is so authentic and custom and neat that you’ll keep it forever or a wall art piece that’s lasered out to the 20,000th of an inch that has extreme detail and an artistic view to it and would be something you could hand down for generations — wherever your heart is leading you to recreate your space to be ‘a very authentic you,’ we would love to have a hand in making that happen."