By Bob Audette
For a woodworker like Alex Dunklee, Peggy and Ken Farabaugh are a godsend.
“I am terrible at marketing,” he said. “I like to build, not market.”
And build he does — his handcrafted “Wrought ‘N Wood” furniture is made from “found” materials he stumbles upon during his day job, as a bridge builder with Renaud Brothers Construction in Vernon, Vt.
A table he recently created used metal from a wrought-iron bridge in Wilder and wood from a bridge in Townshend. But Dunklee doesn’t totally rework the materials; though he finely crafts them for everyday use, he leaves the marks, blemishes and engravings left by the original craftsmen, nature and even young lovers with a pocket knife.
“This table was handcrafted as a testimony to the quality craftsmen from an era that has long gone by,” said Dunklee. “The components of this table have carried many loads for many years, and has been repurposed to carry the memories and stories of your home or office.”
Finding a market for his lovingly created furniture however, proved an almost impossible obstacle to overcome.
Enter Peggy and Ken Farabaugh.
“Everyone we represent at Vermont Woods Studios has a second job,” said Peggy. “Some of them have kids and their families, as well. For many, woodworking is a hobby.”
But, stopping in the official showroom — Stonehurst in Vernon — you would never make the casual assumption that the fine furniture on display is just a hobby for anyone.
“We started building our business around the Alexes of the world,” said Peggy. “And who could be more fun to work with? These craftspeople are the salt of the earth.”
The Farabaughs founded Vermont Woods Studios in 2005, not only to feature the fine furniture being created in small workshops around the Green Mountain State, but also in response to the degradation of rainforests around the world.
“Rainforest land is often clear cut for timber that’s used to make furniture, destroying precious animal habitats around the globe — and we knew we had to do something about it,” said Peggy. “So we created a new kind of furniture company — one that sells quality wood furniture made exclusively from sustainably sourced, natural hardwoods.
Over the years, we’ve planted more than 55,000 trees to reforest the Amazon and other forests where our competitors still choose to remove trees illegally.”
While some craftspeople — such as Dunklee — work with repurposed materials, others use wood sourced from well-managed North American forests.
“The wood is harvested in a manner that protects animal habitats and takes into consideration the long term health of the forests,” said Peggy. “All of our wood furniture is made from abundant North American hardwoods such as cherry, maple, oak and walnut.”
Both in the showroom and online — vermontwoodsstudios.com — Vermont Woods Studios showcases “the world’s largest selection of beautiful, eco-friendly Vermont-made furniture.” The physical showroom and the centralized online portal give exposure to craftspeople who might otherwise struggle in a world dominated by online behemoths.
“Working with Vermont Woods has brought exposure to Woodruff Custom Furniture that we would have otherwise not seen,” said Chad Woodruff, who also lives and works in Vernon. “Not only have they been a great asset to our business, but we have become great friends along the way.”
“Without the internet, we would not be able to do this,” said Peggy.
While Vermont Woods Studios features many affordable pieces online, the showroom in Vernon has high-quality furniture in a setting that allows customers to meet with the craftspeople and learn how a piece was made and from what materials. Customers can also work with Vermont Woods Studios to customize a piece of furniture for their homes.
“We are very sensitive to the needs of our online shoppers, because the market is very competitive,” said Farabaugh. “Some of that stuff sells very well, but the pieces that our craftspeople spend a long time on you have to see in the showroom. It helps our customers understand the value of our expertise. These are pieces that can be passed down in a family. You can’t convey the story of the furniture unless they come in and learn the story, understand their provenance.”
Vermont is home to nearly 2,000 small, custom-furniture makers as well as several mid-size, high-end furniture manufacturers.
Other craftspeople Vermont Woods Studios works with include, but are not limited to, Robin Chase’s Maple Corner Woodworkers, Rob Bachand’s Vermont Furniture Designs, Dan Mosheim’s Dorset Custom Furniture and David Holzapfel’s Applewood Gallery.
Company has wings, too
Peggy Farabaugh, who owns Vermont Woods Studios with her husband Ken, says their business success is because “We are driven by our passion for the craft.”
Peggy Farabaugh also also has a passion for the monarch butterfly.
Over the past 20 years, the monarch population has declined by 90 percent. During the winter of 1996-97, scientists estimated there were a billion monarchs wintering over in Mexico. An estimate from last year found only about 35 million, a number so low that several environmental organizations are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to classify monarch butterflies as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Peggy Farabaugh has been pushing efforts to replant milkweed and nectar plants around the region to help sustain the monarchs.
In addition to the company’s efforts to restore rainforests in the Amazon, Vermont Woods Studios is allied with the La Cruz Habitat Protection Program in an effort to plant 1 million trees every year in the monarch butterfly’s overwintering area in Michoacan, Mexico.
Bob Audette has been writing for the Brattleboro Reformer for close to 15 years. When he’s not working or hanging out with his 6-year-old son, he can often be found on one of the many trails leading to the summit of Mount Monadnock, in southern New Hampshire.