SAINT JOHN – A few years ago Phil Martin’s wife Jennifer came home with a coffee table from Tuck Studio that was made by New Brunswick woodworker Brent Rourke.
Martin, the marketing and business development manager for J.D. Irving, Limited, Sawmills Division, immediately recognized an opportunity to create a value-added product from the company’s mills.
“She brought that home and I’m like, ‘geez, that’s right up the alley of products that I’d like to do.’ ”
So Martin set about exploring the opportunity. He reached out to Judith Mackin, owner of Tuck Studio, to discuss the market potential for a line of furniture products made from wood from JDI sawmills.
She was immediately enthusiastic, offering her design, branding and retail expertise to the project.
I remember Jennifer coming to the studio…’I have to have [the table]’ she said and then took it home to Phil,” says Mackin. “That was the first time I met both of them. I love the story of that because it speaks to a personal connection and then a catalyst to where it’s taken us.”
Mackin and Martin then hopped in a car and drove north to Saint-François-de-Madawaska to visit JMN Enterprises Inc., the wood products manufacturer that Martin thought was best suited to making the furniture itself.
“I facilitated the conversation between Judith and JMN because I knew they were the ones who were going to do the work of transforming the wood into beautiful pieces of furniture,” says Martin.
Those beautiful pieces of furniture are now part of a line called “SLAB: wood from the hood” that will be launched at Tuck Interiors on Grannan Lane November 16. The array of products will include custom dining room and boardroom tables, benches, seats, stools, and coffee and end tables.
All of the products are made from slabs of sustainably harvested mature birch, ash and maple tree pieces that were originally destined for tissue or firewood, says Martin.
“We have trees and we can’t saw them because they don’t meet the specs for what we need,” he says. “What can we do with them besides creating firewood? Ultimately that’s what they would have become, so you’re taking firewood and creating beautiful pieces of furniture.”
Mackin has sold custom-designed furniture made by local woodworkers, but she says JDI presents an opportunity to manufacture a line of products on a larger scale.
“We partnered with different local people for years but I was really interested in this idea about collaborating with JDI because they have so much wood,” she says. “And they have this opportunity to put things through a kiln in a three- month process. The wood that we use on the pieces that we’ve done with local cabinetmakers or woodworkers takes two to three years to dry out in a barn. The process is very slow.”
Mackin says the people who buy this furniture (she already has a waiting list for certain pieces) care about the story behind the products; that forestry and woodworking have long been part of the province’s economy and culture. “The consumers are people that actually care about the narrative behind how this furniture is produced,” she says.
“I love this project because it’s completely local,” she says. “We can tell you which part of the forest in New Brunswick it came from. Out of the [products] that are coming out after the second batch, we actually know when they were planted. That’s incredible to me.”
People tend to think of the traditional products made from trees in our forests: tissue, paper, lumber for building homes … and firewood from the discards.
Martin says JDI has an open mind about developing new, and sometimes for them unconventional products. They all go through the same rigorous selection process, says Martin. In the last year, the company looked at 80 potential projects and this one scored high.
“The ones that rose up to the top were the ones we were going to focus on,” he says. “This project was number three on the list, so it was something that we were definitely going to look into … see if there’s a viable business case there. I pitched it to my boss who said pursue it and see how it works out.”
And though it appears like an unconventional product for JDI to help develop, Mackin says it nonetheless suits the original Irving visionary, K.C.
“Some of these trees were part of the early forest management [initiatives] that he implemented decades ago,” she says.
“We’ve got a tree slab down in the store that’s 86 years old, and that would have been part of K.C.’s vision when he said we need to start planting trees now for the future. That birch comes out of that vision from [him] that many years ago.”