Photos courtesy of Jordan Hoener
Using Japanese joinery, Hoener Farms handcrafts hardwood furniture from trees either locally saved or grown at its Millbrook site.
Second chances are possible in the Hudson Valley. Ecologically, recycling has become fashionable as local manufacturers focus on sustainability. Across the region, brands have taken on everything from transforming post-consumer plastic into sportswear, to saving hides from local cattle ranches to create beautiful scrolls in plant-based tanneries. In Millbrook, a couple finds new uses for fallen trees with beautiful handcrafted furniture.
“When we bought our property in Millbrook, it needed a lot of work. It was an old farm and had been overgrown with trees and brambles… Many trees were dead. We had a lot of ash trees affected by the emerald ash borer,” explains Jordan Hoener.
She and her husband Max, who grew up near Rhinebeck, started their own farm, aptly named Hoener Farms. While preparing the site for the animals, the couple discovered a wealth of untapped resources, namely dead trees.
“We thought we should do something with this wood,” she recalls. “There was still usable wood inside. We should grind it.
So they built a sawmill. Jordan is from New Mexico and spent much of his childhood farming and learning trades. Among the many skills she developed during this time was welding. She taught Max, who was able to build the mill for Hoener Farms.
On the other hand, Max comes from a long line of carpenters. His grandfather was a sculptor and artist, which instilled in him a deep passion for creativity. Meanwhile, her father teaches graphic design at SUNY New Paltz and makes furniture. Max strives to design pieces that outperform structurally sound furniture.
In other words, he makes art.
“We are very influenced by Japanese carpentry techniques. A lot of our inspiration also comes from George Nakashima, who was an amazing carpenter,” says Jordan. Nakashima led the American craft movement with his innovative designs. A reliance on carpentry means Hoener Farms furniture does not require nuts, bolts and other fasteners. Other than glue in a few places, the parts are held together by design alone. Typically, if a piece goes together, it can also come apart for things like easy transportation.
So what does the manufacturing process actually involve?
The Hoeners refer to their method as “full circle furniture.” They source their wood from the Hudson Valley and never cut down healthy trees. Instead, they gather wood after storms have toppled towering maples or when pests and diseases ravage ash trees. Plus, Hoener Farms works with local landowners and logging companies to make sure nothing goes to waste. Whether the wood arrives as a log or a felled tree, it only leaves when Jordan and Max breathe new life into it.
“We do one of two things with the owners. Either they can essentially donate their tree and we’ll make furniture out of it for another project, or they can have us make a piece of furniture for them out of that tree. That way they kind of still have something of that living organism,” Jordan says.
Along the same lines, sentimentality drives Hoener Farms. Take the example of his Milk Road trestle table. The property the farmhouse sits on dates back to the 1700s, so when an ancient maple tree fell last fall, it provided a canvas. This particular beauty reminded the Hoeners of the Shakers (as their property once served as a popular milk route).
Small details and imperfections in the wood remain, preserving a very attractive natural quality, especially considering the popularity that live-edge tables have gained in recent years. Max also looked to Japanese temples to inform the design of the table legs. Channeling Nakashima, he used mortise and tenon joinery. In other words, he designed each component of the table to fit together like a puzzle. Farmhouse C-channel steel brackets and homemade brass knobs reinforce the top. Hoener Farms produces furniture that is meant to last and “its durability is measured in centuries,” according to its website.
To ensure longevity, Jordan and Max take special care in preparing the wood after milling. First, it has to air dry for a while until it reaches a very precise moisture level. Then the wood goes into a solar oven, where it dries for several more weeks. After that, the wood goes into a second, much hotter oven. This step kills any lingering insects inside and further stabilizes the wood.
Finally, the couple can start building.
The wood goes through a jointer, then a simpler one, then Jordan does the sanding and finishing.
“We only use non-toxic finishes. They are completely safe for anyone and everyone. We avoid chemicals as much as possible… and New Age products,” says Jordan.
After assembly, the parts are sold in the farm shop and on the website. Other notable items include the Hudson Coffee Table (made from the same maple as the Milk Road Trestle Table), the Wilson Lounge Chair (one of Max’s favorite designs) and an array of kitchen utensils.
Any home chef would benefit from the beautiful charcuterie boards, serving trays, risotto spoons and hand carved spatulas. If you’re looking to put the tools to the test, the website offers a myriad of traditional recipes. Most of them come from Jordan’s family and date from the late 1800s.
Hoener Farms also offers custom furniture design. Max and his father generate 3D models, allowing customers to view the piece in their homes.
“We sit down with a client and really see not just what room they want us to build, but also the space they’re going to fit into. How are you [inform] the type of wood used. We try not to smudge the word — obviously if a customer wants something smudged, we’ll smudge it — but we really try to keep a more natural finish,” says Jordan.
Hoener Farms is open to the public for farm tours and interactive programs. Jordan has already taught a few welding courses and hopes to offer basic woodworking courses in the future. Of course, the highlight of any visit is spending time with the adorable animals on site.
Currently the farm has around 20 laying hens, several Icelandic and Baby Southdown sheep, a few pygmy goats and a sweet Scottish Highland cow named Elmer. Jordan uses wool fibers for personal crochet projects and aspires to raise beef cattle and dairy cows in the future.
“Elmer comes from an Amenia breeder, and honestly, he’s more of a companion animal,” laughs Jordan. The duo will be getting a few more from the same breeder over the next year to start breeding their own Scottish Highland cows.
Above all, Hoener Farms seeks to spread awareness of sustainable practices and methods that make better use of the natural resources around us. Jordan and Max cultivate a deep love for agriculture and hold consultation sessions for locals who want to start their own farm in the Hudson Valley.
“We are not professionals in all fields, but we help people who want to have animals and who want to live off the land. OWe set them up with their fences and barns and everything they’ll need to take care of the animals,” notes Jordan.
Together, the pair use a lifetime of experience to share their expertise and even offer tailor-made solutions. To visit Hoener Farms, make an appointment via the website.
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