Using creativity to keep fallen trees out of landfills
“Standing dead and fallen trees are an undervalued asset in our communities,” says Pound Ridge native Eli Arnow, who co-founded Epilogue Woods with Matt Rohrs. “The name of the company came from our goal of wanting to continue the stories of these old and beautiful trees, to provide an epilogue to their life and history.”
Arnow and Rohrs met while at Union College in Schenectady but didn’t really connect until after they graduated when they ran into each other at a party. “Eli had made this amazing table out of reclaimed rafters, and we decided that this is what we wanted to do,” Rohrs recalls. While he had taken woodworking and some architectural classes in high school, Arnow only became proficient with hand tools while he was in graduate school. Indeed, he wooed his girlfriend with a custom kitchen island; they are still together.
“After Hurricane Sandy, all these amazing trees fell down,” Arnow says. “I got a big chain saw, put on some Kevlar chaps, and started cutting them up.” He and Rohrs began making furniture in Arnow’s parents’ basement in Pound Ridge, using his father’s antique tools. Along the way, his uncle gifted him some old power equipment. They were still very much in hobby mode, selling things on Etsy or by word of mouth. “In the beginning, were making these small, ugly, lumpy tables,” Rohrs says. “We made plenty of mistakes but learned from them.”
Did they ever. Today, the two are known for creating stunning hand-crafted furniture purely from salvaged trees. Much of their wood is sourced here in northern Westchester and milled into boards in the Hudson Valley. While they work with local arborists to find their material, Arnow has been known to leave a note in the mailbox when he spots a beautiful—but dead—specimen in someone’s yard. “Recently I found a crew taking down a black walnut tree and offered to buy the wood from them.” Some of that wood was transformed into a beautiful live edge table—a much more lasting tribute than just a few cords of firewood. Nothing gets wasted—even the scrap pieces of wood are transformed into gorgeous vases, bowls, and cutting boards.
Epilogue Woods focuses on specific design builds, making a client’s dreams a reality. Their most unusual request was for matching glass-topped display coffee tables for a golfing enthusiast who wanted to show off the golf balls he played at renowned courses around the world. Another project required making their own plywood and adding the veneer for a custom bedside table, giving it the beauty and durability of hardwood with the stability of plywood.
Arnow’s family owns a farm in southern Columbia County where they store and dry the wood used in the business. “My grandfather bought the land in 1968 and once had 200 sheep on it,” Arnow says. “It is not being used as a farm anymore, but he passed on to me a feeling of responsibility for the land. Eventually, we will move the business from our Norwalk facility up there.”
The most resource-intense part of traditional woodworking is drying the lumber. Freshly sawn logs are between 30 to 50 percent water by weight and need to be dried to a 10 percent moisture level to be used in making furniture. Industrial wood production relies heavily on fossil-fuel-powered kilns to dry lumber quickly at high temperatures. “It basically cooks the wood and you lose a huge amount of its beauty and character,” Arnow says. “Even the feel of the wood is different. Our process is slower, but it results in a higher-quality lumber than industrial methods. We air dry our wood in a solar kiln—it is kind of like a greenhouse with box fans for circulating the air. With a minimal ecological footprint, our lumber can be dried much faster than by simply being stacked outdoors.”
Arnow and Rohrs sell their products through epiloguewoods.com and at local farmers markets.