With respect for the past and a love of the wood, area woodworkers are tapping into North Carolina’s rich heritage to build sustainable, homegrown businesses.
Each dining room table, rustic art piece, or handcrafted desk they make comes with a story, at no extra charge, perfect to dust off at family dinners and neighborhood parties.
Learn more about Enkle Designs at enkledesigns.com. Furniture is available at Palette & Parlor in Chapel Hill, and smaller home décor items can be found at Ramble Supply Co. in Raleigh.
Live Edge Wood Designs accepts custom orders through its website, liveedgewooddesigns.com. On weekends, finished pieces can be found at the company’s retail space in the Commercial Building at the State Fairgrounds.
Simple Roots Décor takes orders for custom wall art, furniture and other items at simplerootsdecor.com.
Barn to table
Diane Gemberling of Apex knew she was onto something when she presented a wood silhouette of North Carolina as a teacher gift and had 40 people order one for themselves.
She and her brother-in-law, Jeff Thompson, now create furniture and home décor items out of wood reclaimed from historic barns for their company, Simple Roots Décor.
“The barn that comes from Willow Spring or the barn that comes from Angier is staying local. That wood, rich in history, gets a new life right here,” Gemberling said.
Gemberling, a former kindergarten teacher, does the finishing work, the shipping, and writes the personal notes accompanying each shipment. Thompson, who worked for years in the furniture industry, provides technical know-how and works on the larger pieces.
Reclaimed barn wood fulfills the pair’s desire for a sustainable source of materials and helps the business connect with the area’s agricultural heritage.
“You can see the history in the patina and the colors,” said Thompson, who lives in Fuquay-Varina. “We fell in love with barn wood and it resonated with our clients.”
“You can walk into a barn and say, ‘That’s going to be an end piece, that’s a table, that’s a North Carolina,’” said Gemberling. “The barns really lead the way. The texture has a story, and we know what blends well.”
The company’s partnership with Our State magazine provides a steady stream of orders for North Carolina wall hangings of all sizes. Other state outlines are popular too, with most customers living in states with a farming past.
An avid horsewoman, Gemberling would see barns while she was riding and knock on doors, asking if she could have the wood. As their reputation has grown, people from as far away as Blowing Rock have contacted them about taking down an old building. Recently a man from Angier donated eight barns; they’ve taken down three so far.
The stories come with the wood. Gemberling tells of taking down a barn in Willow Spring, when an older gentleman drove up and stayed the entire day, spinning tales of the people who lived and grew tobacco there.
“I sit down and talk to these people. I don’t just take their wood,” she said. “I have learned so much, and I have so much respect for these people, because it was hard.”
These anecdotes are shared on the company’s website and Facebook page, and clients appreciate knowing the history of their purchase.
“That’s what we hear from our clients,” said Thompson. “These pieces have a story you can talk about.”
Living on the edge
An unusual family inheritance helped Quinn Ferebee and Doug Boytos start their business, Live Edge Wood Designs.
Boytos grew up in Cary, learning woodworking at Green Hope High School. Ferebee picked up the craft from his father Clay, who has owned H.C. Ferebee IV Woodworking in Raleigh since 1977. The two worked together on remodeling jobs for the elder Ferebee, and even flipped a couple of houses themselves. But they kept getting requests to build custom furniture.
“We started doing this stuff (building furniture), and one day my dad was like, ‘You know we’ve got a big pile of live edge walnut slabs out in that barn in Chatham County,’” said Ferebee.
His great-grandfather was clearing land from the family farm in eastern North Carolina, when he felled several good-sized black walnut trees. Prized by woodworkers, black walnut has a close grain, creamy white sapwood and darker brown heartwood with gray or purplish streaks. The trees were milled and the lumber was set aside for about a hundred years.
“It’s been my lucky inheritance,” Ferebee continued. “It got us going. It helped us fall in love with the grain, with all the contrast in the wood.”
Using the heirloom wood, the pair were able to work out some of their distinctive live edge designs, following the tree’s natural shape. The superior quality wood — and its rich backstory — also appealed to many of their first custom clients.
“Whether it’s a live-edge table or not, pretty much everything we do is a conversation piece,” said Boytos. “Instead of just having a standard oak table in your dining room, you have this awesome piece of a tree with a story to tell.”
Though the black walnut is nearly gone, Boytos and Ferebee still source all their wood regionally, with most grown in North Carolina. The pair also tout the sustainability of quality craftsmanship, saying their “modern heirlooms” will be around longer than any factory-made piece.
“All of the tables we build will outlast the people who buy them, and their kids,” said Boytos.
Keep it simple
Furniture-maker Matt Booty also champions the benefits of buying well-made pieces that will last a lifetime — or more.
“You’re going to spend less on furniture over your lifetime if you just buy one good piece,” he said. “If someone holds onto a piece for 50 years and hands it down to their kids, and they hold on to it for 30 years, that is so much more productive in cutting waste.”
Booty always knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur, and since his father restores antique furniture, woodworking was a natural progression. Inspired by the clean lines and timeless appeal of mid-century modern Scandinavian design, Booty launched his business, Enkle Designs, with simplicity in mind. The name itself means “simple” in Norwegian.
The design work needed to give his tables and desks that clean look is a challenge that Booty embraces.
“I’ve also always had the desire to design things, to create things, and this is something that feeds that hunger for creativity,” he said.
Booty also appreciates that because of North Carolina’s furniture-making past, he has access to locally produced lumber. This is appealing to clients searching for well-made, sustainable pieces. Custom work makes up the majority of his business, and about 40 percent comes from partnerships with local retailers, Palette & Parlor in Chapel Hill and Ramble Supply Co. in Raleigh.
“You can use better quality, locally sourced lumber and still make it sustainable, because those pieces are going to last a lot longer,” he said. “You’re paying a local person as well; you’re fueling the local economy.”
Booty, who lives in Holly Springs, recently moved his workshop to a woodworking co-op space in Raleigh he opened with his father, Christopher. The pair plan to rent space to fellow craftsmen, enabling woodworkers to share tools and resources.