Tigard family furniture business started in Portland at the end of World War II

The first family of furniture includes (from left) grandma Luba Matthews, grandpa Alexander Matthews, and grandson Ivan Tolmasov; Ivan’s mom Masha, who runs Raleigh Hills Upholstery, happened to come by the store and joined the photo. Barbara Sherman / Tigard Life

A unique furniture store recently opened at the intersection of Hall Boulevard and Greenburg Road, but far from being new, the business has actually been around for five generations, and nothing is for sale in the showroom as the business only does custom-made furniture and upholstery. 

All Alexander Matthews furniture frames are made using hardwoods, and poplar was used for this loveseat, according to Alexander Matthews. Barbara Sherman/Tigard Life

Alexander Matthews Custom Furniture & Upholstery has worked with designers, architects and contractors for generations, but the new location offers the first opportunity for regular customers to walk in the door and order custom pieces.

Alexander and Luba Matthews, who for years have operated Raleigh Hills Upholstery, run the business with their grandson, Ivan Tolmasov.

“As the years have gone by, we have gotten busier and busier,” said Alexander. “We started this business in our home and got to the point where we needed a bigger space to expand. We have actually been here five months, remodeling the former Chair Outlet space and getting ready to open to the public.”

Ivan explained, “This is not a furniture store. People bring dimensions for the pieces they want and the size of the area or photos of what they want. We work with them to come up with the height of the piece, how deep the seat is, the size and shape of the arms, and so on. Everything is customizable down to the leg shape and color.”

Alexander added, “We can make furniture larger, smaller, taller, shorter, deeper, whatever fits the customer. And we have thousands of fabric samples.”

According to Ivan, who is the director of operations, regular furniture stores sell cheap furniture on a one-size-fits-all approach, using plywood and particle board for the frames and chicken feathers instead of goose down for the upholstery.

“We call ourselves the seating solution experts,” Ivan said. “Our furniture is top-of-the-line. Particle board is sawdust glued together. We use poplar, maple or oak hardwoods for the frames. Our furniture lasts forever and can be recovered again and again.

“We also do a lot of re-upholstery. Someone will bring in grandma’s chair and ask if it is worth it to reupholster it.”

According to Alexander, until the 1970s most furniture was made out of hardwood, “but it’s been going downhill ever since.”

And he was raised in the business. “My grandfather came to America from Europe shortly after World War II,” Alexander said. “He had been in the furniture business and had the skills to operate his own business. He had four sons, and my dad was the oldest son who also went into the business.”

Alexander and Luba have three daughters who run Raleigh Hills Upholstery, and Ivan is the oldest grandchild, the son of Masha. Ivan worked in the restaurant business for 12 years, during high school and college and after, until COVID-19 hit, and the bottom dropped out of that business.

“I decided to leave the restaurant business,” he said. “It was sad to leave it. I loved it, but I decided to help my grandparents in their business. COVID was a blessing in disguise because I love working with my grandparents.”

Luba, who is the chief financial officer, and Alexander decided to let their daughters run Raleigh Hills Upholstery so they could open a custom-furniture store for private clients in addition to their commercial customers. “It’s a whole new way of buying,” Ivan said. “We customize everything down to the throw pillows.”

Alexander is primarily the production manager, making sure the furniture is built correctly in the huge manufacturing facility behind the showroom. They currently have 15 employees, including seamstresses, cutters, upholsterers and woodworkers.

“Our employees have been with us a long time,” Alexander said. “Young people are not interested in this type of work. I grew up in my dad’s business. Portland used to be the home of many furniture-makers. That is why my grandpa came to Portland. There was a niche already here. But now most furniture-manufacturing in the U.S. is in South Carolina and other Southern states where the wages are lower.

“But I enjoy doing this. It is super artistic – very demanding but also rewarding. I can’t imagine quitting. We have room here for another 20 to 25 years and are looking to expand our territory to other cities. We already do jobs around the Northwest and the country for hotels and lots of restaurants.”

According to Alexander, while most custom furniture-makers and upholsterers need many months to complete orders, they can finish commercial jobs in two to three months and residential jobs in four to six weeks.

They are also unique in that customers can bring in their own fabric for upholstery jobs; many upholsterers require fabric to be purchased or charge extra if customers use their own.

One can only imagine what the furniture looks like in Ivan’s and Luba and Alexander’s homes. “One of the pleasures of being in this business is that we get to design our own furniture,” Alexander said.

Alexander Matthews Custom Furniture and Upholstery is located at 9285 S.W. Greenburg Road. The phone number is 503-914-2948.