Rustic is the New Contemporary
by Collin Miller
A knotted fence lines the road winding to Bill and Barbara Olendorf’s place in Putnam County. An arrangement of twisted, woody debris reads “TWIGS” on the sign posted adjacent to the driveway welcoming visitors. When asked if the Olendorf’s had cobbled in the “Z” as a way to complement their unorthodox style of rustic furniture the response is humorous. “Actually,” says Barbara, “we tried to get a personalized license plate from the DMV and were surprised to find that “TWIGS” was already being used by a landscaping company in our neighborhood.” At that point, the father and daughter team adapted their 25-year old hobby into a full-time operation known as TWIGZ Natural Furniture.
Having spent much of the last decade traveling the country as a consultant to prospective restaurateurs, Barbara Olendorf learned the pangs of starting a business from scratch and the satisfaction of watching it become successful. Tired of the long hours and shrewd competition of the restaurant industry, she found herself drawn back to her “roots” – building rustic furniture with her dad, Bill. Throughout much of her life, Barbara has watched and learned her father’s techniques. He’s a trained engineer with a background in finance and a penchant for fine woods craftsmanship. “Once friends and family saw what we were able to create”, Bill says, “we started experimenting with different designs during our spare time and giving them away as gifts.”
Early in 2004, the Olendorfs thought about making rustic furniture a full-time venture. Marketing through furniture outlets like Kingston’s Noble Tree Gallery, entering juried shows in the Northeast, and consulting with other well-known rustic furniture designers has helped the business grow. “I wanted to see if my experience with the entrepreneurial process could work for us too…,” explains Barbara. “Plus, I always loved building things with wood.”
Recently, TWIGZ collaborated with rustic craftsman, Daniel Mack on a commission for an Aspen, Colorado home owner. Mack, author of four books and a rustic furniture and design teacher, encouraged Bill and Barbara, helping them to establish connections with other rustic workers such as Judd Weisberg of Lexington, NY. After viewing their work, Mack invited them to help form a Rustic Cooperative in the Webatuck Craft Village in Wingdale, NY. Bill hopes the cooperative will develop into a school for fellow rustic artists and an outlet for wood materials and supplies.
TWIGZ uses various species to bring out the character in design, function and form of their furniture. Recognizing the tremendous waste of wood that can occur when land is converted from forest to development in suburban areas, the Olendorf’s began acquiring skinny twigs and saplings that would otherwise be chipped up and discarded after a lot clearing. The team went further in their search for material by developing relationships with many forest landowners in the New York City Watershed region east and west of the Hudson River interested in promoting forest health through timber stand improvement (TSI). TSI is used by professional foresters to improve forest health and control species composition by light thinning. TWIGZ also works with “the grandfather of the rustic movement” Jerry Farrell – proprietor of Once Upon A Forest. Farrell has helped the Olendorfs locate Robert Hoyt, a woodsman and supplier of some of the best hand-peeled, rustic components like Canadian yew, striped maple, aspen, and yellow birch.
This past fall TWIGZ received a grant from the Watershed Agricultural Council’s Forestry Grants Initiative to expand a cramped workshop, upgrade tooling and equipment, and hire a marketing consultant to launch a website and develop brochures. With funding from the USDA Forest Service, the grants assist forest products businesses in the New York City Watershed region and strengthen the regional forest-based economy. The forests and farms of upstate New York filter the drinking water for 9 million metropolitan New Yorkers. The Olendorfs’ use of small-diameter stems from local sources and alliance with past grant recipients continues to have a positive impact on forestry in the region.
“The grant has been instrumental in our ability to grow the business,” states Barbara Olendorf. In the coming months, TWIGZ will work with forestry consultants throughout the Watershed region to acquire more small-diameter hardwoods, cedar logs, and other forest materials. Their catalog of rustic designs include bedroom and dining sets, rockers and other chairs, lamps and children’s furniture. All hand-made from locally harvested hardwoods peeled with as little machining as possible. To minimize waste, TWIGZ developed a line of home accessories such as picture frames, mirrors, and candle sticks made with pieces of wood leftover from furniture-making. The Olendorfs welcome contacts from any landowners wishing to conduct TSI on their property as they are always looking for new materials. Anyone that would like more information about TWIGZ is also encouraged to contact them. Bill or Barbara Olendorf can be reached by calling (845) 878-6770 or e-mail at [email protected].
For more information on economic assistance for the forest products businesses of the region or to request a copy of the Catskill Mountain Region’s Wood Products Manufacturers Directory please call Collin Miller, Forestry Program Specialist at the Watershed Agricultural Council at (607) 865-7790.