A ‘tree-to-table’ business in Orient

Credit: Barbaraellen Koch

Credit: Barbaraellen Koch

The buzz of saws and sanders, a soft dust coating the floor and the smell of freshly cut lumber make the senses come alive when you walk into the workshop of East End Wood Designs.

There, co-owners Jeff Rogers and Mike Gillespie of Orient aim to create one-off, specialty furniture made from local wood. Whether it’s the large overgrown limbs from pruning, or trunks from cleared properties, the business repurposes, recycles, and gives new life to the felled trees that would otherwise be discarded or turned into firewood.

“Everyone thinks you have to go to South America to get fancy grains,” Rogers said, referring to wood fibers. “But we have beautiful grains right here.”

White oak, butternut, cedar and even redwood sequoia — the timber found on the North Fork is as different as Mr. Rogers and Mr. Gillespie.

Rogers is a craftsman who brings his artistry to the table, while Mr. Gillespie brings his business acumen and an analytical skill set.

A North Fork native and an arborist by trade, Rogers has spent most of his career pruning, planting and removing trees as part of his 40-year-old local enterprise, Beaver Tree Inc. Mr. Gillespie, a financial operations consultant in New York City, found solace from his high-pressure work life by tinkering with wood projects like birdhouses and toy boxes.

The two became fast friends when Mr. Gillespie moved to Orient five years ago and hired Rogers to do some landscaping on his new property. Since then, they’d been throwing around the idea to do “something” together businesswise.

So in January of this year they pooled their resources and purchased a sawmill — a machine that turns logs into workable lumber.

“Jeff’s got the experience and I’ve got the will to learn what I’m doing,” Mr. Gillespie said. “There’s such a demand for rustic furniture and we have so many resources.”

These tree trunks will be milled into lumber for furniture. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

These tree trunks will be milled into lumber for furniture. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

While Mr. Gillespie and Mr. Rogers did have to invest in some materials, like the mill and other specialty tools, all of the wood they use to create unique furniture pieces comes from Rogers’ job sites.

“Even Jeff’s competitors are dropping off wood,” Mr. Gillespie said. “It costs a fortune to dump it, and we’ll take it.”

Scrap from other fellers isn’t the only thing they’ll take. The two came across an old Mahogany deck that was being ripped out and thrown away, so they claimed that and plan to turn it into a table top, a bench, shelves, “anything,” Mr. Rogers said.

After the wood comes in, the process is relatively simple. It’s milled, cured, cut, sanded and then finished. Somewhere in between an idea for what it will become is born.

“What’s exciting is that every cut is different,” Rogers said.

With the news of a new sawmill in town, Mr. Gillespie and Rogers have also begun milling wood for local customers, like cabinetmakers and woodworking hobbyists, so they can make their own specialty pieces.

While the business is still new — it is yet to even have website — the ball is rolling. Mr. Gillespie and Mr. Rogers have been recruited to make some tables and benches for two local delis, and are consistently churning out pieces to have a working portfolio.

One of East End Wood Design’s first official customers is Miriam Foster, co-owner of the Orient Country Store. She’s commissioned three benches and a table for her storefront.

“We’ve only seen a prototype, but it was beautiful and such craftsmanship,” Ms. Foster said. “The fact that he [Rogers] can turn something natural into art, it was a fairly obvious choice for us.”

Ms. Foster hopes to eventually have custom furniture for the entire space, and for the presence of East End Wood Design’s furniture to work as a sort of advertisement for their pieces.

Both men are nearing retirement from their lifelong careers and plan to devote even more time to East End Wood Designs when those days comes.

Credit: Barbaraellen Koch

Credit: Barbaraellen Koch

“Just to produce an idea and repurpose North Fork resources is really satisfying,” Mr. Gillespie said. “If someone loses a tree we can turn it into a piece they’ll have forever, and make a little spending money on the side.”

To inquire about a piece of furniture or having something milled contact Mr. Gillespie at 917-446-8730 or Mr. Rogers at 631-41-5849.