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Creating Heirloom Furniture from Connecticut Trees

In the lobby of Suicide Six, one of America’s oldest ski resorts in South Pomfret, VT, Ryan Longfield asked the bartender who made the stool he was sitting on?  Not only did he like the way it swiveled, he liked the way it looked.

Jeffrey Helm, who designed and handcrafted all of the stools in the lobby with his past woodworking business partner, just so happened to be sitting right there.  Now, owner of Barnard, VT-based Helm Furniture, the company makes and sells high-end functional furniture that is designed and built to serve its purpose for a very long time.  In fact, he has a couple of fun, new swivel barstool lines coming out.  And all of the lumber for his beautiful designs comes from repurposed lumber that has been salvaged from residential and commercial tree removals right here along the Connecticut shoreline.

“I’m not getting my lumber from Vermont because most companies here are buying it from other people across the country,” says Helm who purchases lumber from Drew Finkeldey, Jr., a licensed arborist and owner of Under the Bark in Essex, Connecticut.  “To get a live edge piece of walnut that’s almost 50 inches wide and nine feet long is tough to do.”

Helm says that what Under the Bark does is unique, which is why he comes down to Essex every couple of months to get lumber.  From collecting downed trees from around the shoreline to the laborious task of milling, drying, surfacing and sanding the wood, this company does it all.

“As a tree care company, we have to get rid of a lot of material,” says Finkeldey, who started Under the Bark in 2011 after working with trees for years alongside his dad, owner of Finkeldey Landscaping & Tree Care. “We started realizing that there was a lot of really quality timber being wasted.  Most tree companies will use it for pulpwood, mulch or firewood.  We invested in a portable Alaskan chainsaw mill that allows us to mill lumber where the tree falls and create 5 to 6 feet wide tabletops.”

“Connecticut is home to some of the oldest hardwoods in the country.  It’s not uncommon to find a 250-year old tree around here,” says Finkeldey, who says that when the colonists started clearing forests for farmland before heading to other areas to pasture and farm, cornerstone trees were left alone.  “One of my favorites is a 250-year old sugar maple that was blown over during one of the hurricanes on Route 79 in Madison. It has some of the most unbelievable character I’ve ever seen.”

“He’s a tree guy that really cares about his lumber,” says Helm, who knows Finkeldey from woodworking circles.  “We both have a passion for the wood’s beauty and can sit and stare at it for hours. He can tell me the age of the tree and the exact place it was taken and why.  I love to capture the tree’s personality and let its story live on through my designs.”

He’s giving trees a second life, while also making furniture that will live on.  “I have my grandmother’s rocking chair that’s all wood joinery.  It’s just a beautiful piece of furniture. My goal is to make pieces that will be passed down for generations.”

Every piece he makes is wood joinery, or basically handmade and not production style made with CNC machines.  He does anything from rolling pins ($45) to custom tables from $2,500 to $25,000.  A coffee table on average costs anywhere between $600 to $3,500, depending on what the client wants. Barstools start at $600.

“The cost is based on the time that goes into every piece,” says Helm, who’s basically self-taught with home building experience and a short stint at woodworking school. “I look at furniture as a piece of art and something that is heirloom quality.”

“I’m sure I could have found bar stools at a big box store,” says Longfield, who bought four of the bar stools he loved at Suicide Six for his timber frame home, a 200-year old barn that he restored.  “But, I like that these barstools are made from a local craftsman and I’m putting money back into the local economy.”

“I like making artisan style furniture,” notes Helm, who enjoys the simplicity of life on his small farm with his wife, kids, five goats and chickens. “I enjoy going to my garage, putting on some good music and getting to work. I don’t think a big, retail space is in my future. I like when a client just trusts me to create a custom piece.  That’s the fun part.”

“My furniture is high end, sustainable and one of kind,” he continues. “I want people to know that when they buy a piece, they aren’t going to see another one like it.”

Helm Furniture’s website is www.helmfurniture.com.

To learn more about Under the Bark, visit www.underthebark.net.

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