Option prices may vary. Please contact us at 866-689-6637 for more information.

Handcrafted Log Furniture Makes Mountain Woods Furniture Stand Out

By: Western Retailer July/ August 2009
written by Melissa Dressler

Handcrafted aspen log furniture by Mountain Woods FurnitureManufacturing aspen and pine log furniture since 1991, Mountain Woods Furniture is known for their award-winning, rustic log furniture for the living room, dining room, bedroom and office. The company has since added a second aspen line and a new reclaimed wood line, The Wyoming Collection to its rustic furniture line-up. From humble beginnings of one person, Mountain Woods Furniture now occupies a 22,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Laramie, WY. Today, experienced and skilled craftspeople use old-fashioned building techniques to create their high-quality products. As a founding member of the Sustainable Furniture Council, owners Mike and Dee O’Connell value and incorporate sustainable practices into every aspect of their manufacturing business.

While the manufacturing of products made by Mountain Woods Furniture is very labor intensive, the results and client retention rate are worth the efforts. All of the wood for the aspen and reclaimed lines is purchased from local suppliers, which helps keep the company’s carbon footprint low. Once the wood is in-house, the aspen logs are peeled by hand with a draw blade. “We don’t have automatic peelers because it takes off too much of the character that lies just under the bark,” Dee said. “We have individuals whose jobs are to peel using the draw blade.”
From there, the wood is finely sanded and utilized for the appropriate project. “If we are doing a custom piece, or a piece that requires extra gnarly wood, the builder will choose which wood he wants for that project,” Dee added. The wood is then run through milling equipment or saws and assembled to create the specific product.

“Our product quality and shipping capabilities are what makes our company unique,” Dee said. “Being an American manufacturer of renewable wood products feels great. We take the environment into account in all of our decisions, and our retail partners enjoy the added benefits of marketing a sustainable, made in the USA brand.” In order to reduce waste from the manufacturing process, Mountain Woods Furniture invested in piping laid throughout their flooring and uses 85 percent of their wood byproducts to heat the facility. “We are always looking for ways to operate efficiently — which affects all of our bottom lines,” Dee added.
Attention to detail is another important aspect of the service and products that Mountain Woods Furniture provides. “Our customers say it is our service that makes us unique,” Dee said. “Our clients are always pleasantly surprised by our attention to detail as well as to the attention the product gets on their showroom floor. It seems to be a product that is very comforting to people — and they truly enjoy having it in their home.”

Mountain Woods Furniture supplies rustic furnishings for retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada. They also do a great deal of custom work and have created many unique items for various celebrities over the last 18 years. For more information on Mountain Woods Furniture, visit their website at www.mountainwoodsfurniture.com.

Westward Expansion: The Story of Mountain Woods Furniture.

Posted on June 01, 2009 Written by Brian Caldwell
By: Woodshop News 

 

For many years, Mike O’Connell possessed a desire to live in the American West. He grew up near Cooperstown, N.Y., the small-town home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. After graduating from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., he did stints in the welding industry and with an electrical component company in upstate New York before resuming his westward journey.

O’Connell and his wife, Dee, lived in St. Louis in the late 1990s, but had a yearning to move farther west, as well as a desire to become more involved in the business world. O’Connell found an intriguing business opportunity in Laramie, Wyo., with a wholesale furniture manufacturing company that was for sale.

“There was an ad in one of the papers that this rustic furniture company was for sale,” O’Connell recalls. “We’d already moved to Fort Collins, Colo., and there is a store that sells the furniture in Fort Collins. I went and took a look at the furniture and I really fell in love with it. I thought it was very unique and had a lot of personality to it.”

With his wife on board as his business partner, the two purchased Mountain Woods Furniture in 2001.

“I bought the company from the founder, a gentleman who started it in 1990, and grew it and grew it. I was in the corporate world, looking to get out of the corporate world, and to be in a more entrepreneurial business.”

 

About 25 miles southwest of Laramie, on Highway 230, in a barren and windy area of southern Wyoming, the O’Connells became the new owners of a 20-person shop that manufactures residential pieces for the dining room, living room, bedroom, and home office, as well as specialty items. The product isn’t typical rustic furniture. The pieces feature dovetailed drawers, mortise and tenon joinery, European hinges and slides, and every piece is supported by the company’s lifetime guarantee.

Taking over

It’s one thing to start your own business and grow it as you see fit. But when you purchase a successful business, changing operating procedures, product line or key personnel isn’t recommended. O’Connell knew to let existing operations continue “as is” while he learned about the business, the market and areas of potential growth.

“I don’t do much woodworking,” he acknowledges. “I have a manufacturing manager. I did have manufacturing experience with processes and material management and things like that. When I came into the business, there were a few rather experienced people working the material and building the furniture. I spend a fair bit of time with material coming in and products going out because that is a big part of our business. We ship all over the country and I spend an awful lot of time with getting product to stores around the country that we sell to.”

 

 


Owner: Mike O'Connell Location: Laramie, Wyo. 
Maker of: Rustic furniture 
Shop size: 22,000 sq. ft. Employees: 20 
Noted client: Cabela's
New offering: The Wyoming Collection 
About the collection: "Log furniture is a fairly narrow niche, and we wanted something still in the rustic arena that our current dealers would be able to sell, something that would be a little more transitional. It's much more versatile than the log-type product that we have traditionally offered."

When the O’Connells bought Mountain Woods Furniture, the business was growing rapidly, thanks to an economy that was booming. Although sales haven’t grown at the same rate during the present decade as they did in the 1990s, furniture sales to second homes, resort areas and other upper-end clients have been quite successful. During the last year, that clientele has been hit hard because of issues such as affordability, mortgages and discretionary income, but O’Connell remains optimistic.

“I am thinking that we have hit the bottom and we’re starting to trend up,” he says. “The winter months were pretty soft, but we have seen some turnaround in the order backlog situation, which I think is a positive indicator, but there are a lot of very mixed emotions about where the economy is and where it is going to go from here. So I think everybody is still taking a wait-and-see attitude.”

Shot in the arm

Since its founding, Mountain Woods Furniture has primarily built log furniture — rustic pieces built with pine and aspen. About a year ago, the company introduced its Wyoming Collection, a rustic, yet refined, line of furniture contrasting light-colored aspen with darker-colored reclaimed wood.

The log supply originates from dead-standing aspen poles and the darker reclaimed wood comes from old barns and snow fences from a local supplier. The aspen usually contains beetle marks that provide each piece with one-of-a-kind character.

“The Wyoming Collection has been going quite well and has been well-received. It’s added a completely different look for us. It’s really broadened our offering to the marketplace and we’ve been quite pleased with how that line has done. It’s a much more transitional look than just the log furniture for us, so we’re glad to have that additional piece of ammunition in our belt here.

“We started by taking the weathered-wood look and fusing it with some aspen and pine that we stained in order to get what we thought was a pretty unique look as far as the overall construction of the pieces and the design.”

The Wyoming Collection idea primarily came from some of the company’s employees. The design combination of naturally weathered woods, lighter aspen and the employees’ knowledge about rustic products has proven to be a successful formula. The Wyoming Collection is targeted at the middle- to higher-end market. The company also produces a rustic arts line that is a scaled-down version with a much more attractive price point.

“When we bought the company, there was just the traditional Mountain Woods product and that would be classified as higher-end. We came out and tried to add product offerings to hit a bit more of the market than just the high-end log furniture part,” adds O’Connell.

Employees count

The building processes involved in Mountain Woods Furniture’s custom pieces aren’t exactly conducted by the book. The employees build each piece from start to finish, beginning with selecting the wood from the company’s log yard to eventually having a completed piece ready for the finish room. That places a lot of responsibility on the individual builder.

 

“Most of our people have been here three or four years; many have been here longer — six, seven years. We look for people who have experience with hand tools and have worked in either a construction or industrial-type setting. If they’ve got carpentry experience, so much the better, but normally that’s not the case. We train them starting with how the wood gets prepped, then how we put it together in the lids and sides, and then as you get a little more experience, then you’re moving on to actually building some pieces.”

Mountain Woods offers about 200 pieces with standard dimensions. Custom orders are also accepted.

“The pay is primarily piecework and each piece has a set pay to it. When someone finishes a piece, that’s when they get paid. We have some people that are a little more productive and they make pretty good money, and others that may be a little slower. They may not make as much money, but they are pretty well-paid out here for the area versus the average. We have a manufacturing foreman; he is responsible for what is going on for labor and lumber within the four walls of the building and reports to me.”

Refreshingly, much of the design input emanates from the employees. O’Connell says he might come up with the general direction, but it’s the employees’ collective input that grabs his idea and helps determine the final product.

“We knew we wanted to supplement our log furniture with an additional product line. When we were working on the Wyoming Collection, our weathered-wood collection, for example, we said we wanted to do some pieces for the bedroom and living room areas. We had two or three people doing initial prototypes and we took the parts we liked the best from the prototype process that went on for 30, 60 days and then we turned that into a finished production product.”

Getting the word out

Mountain Woods Furniture is marketed through several large wholesalers and a group of authorized furniture retailers in about two dozen states. One of the company’s largest clients is Cabela’s, which is currently showcasing the Wyoming Collection.

“Cabela’s is a customer of ours and we also sell to many rustic furniture stores around the country. We also have had success with traditional furniture stores that wanted to broaden their offering. They may have received requests for rustic furniture and they’ve added rustic sections into their stores, so those are customers we sell to as well.”

Mountain Woods Furniture was a first-time exhibitor in January at the Dallas Total Home and Gift Market, and then a returning exhibitor in February at the Las Vegas World Market.

“Vegas was positive,” O’Connell says. “We didn’t have real high expectations going there for the February market because of where the economy was, but the attendance was good; we had some good contacts, and we left there generally pleased with that market.

“Looking at the rest of this year, we’d really like to see consumer confidence come back. We’d like to see the credit markets become a little more flexible and we’d also like to see some stronger job indicators, job growth and job security for people. And just the stabilization and return of the housing market would help as well. The summer season is generally a little more active for us, so we’re looking forward to that particular market and going from there.”

The company has a Web site, but in most cases, sales are not made directly to customers. However, the Web site does provide potential customers product-specific information, including the ability to click on a PDF that shows bedroom pieces, living room pieces, and other items in an effort to increase visibility.

“We’re a manufacturer selling to stores. We do look to our dealers to have inventory on the floor and that’s an important part of what they bring to the party, having furniture immediately ready for the people.”

Materials and machines

O’Connell has managed to put together a “green” operating shop in Wyoming. His wood materials are from reclaimed and salvaged sources, air-dried and placed in a kiln, powered by burning wood scraps, for several weeks.

Mountain Woods Furniture is a member of the Sustainable Furniture Council, a non-profit coalition of suppliers, manufacturers, retailers and designers formed to promote sustainable practices with the best networking and education in the industry. Although the word “green” has many definitions in the building and manufacturing world, O’Connell’s company employs many “green” practices. However, the owner is well aware it is a tricky subject.

“The other part of our business that ties into the weathered wood product is the green aspects of what we do. We deal with dead-standing trees — it’s all obtained regionally — we use all waterbase finishes, and it’s environmentally friendly. We burn our own wood scraps to dry our own wood. We used to have two more propane tanks out there and we’ve taken them out because we’re achieving that heating with our wood scraps. We’ve had a pretty good foot in the green arena before that became a popular buzzword.”

The shop at Mountain Woods Furniture is well-equipped with hand and machine tools, but not over the top. CNC machines are non-existent, and individual handwork is very instrumental in the making of most pieces.

“We have a couple of Timesavers, three different table saws, one with an automatic feeder that we do our drawer pieces on. You’ll see a fair bit of specialized mortise-and-tenon type machinery, a Dodd’s dovetail drawer machine. I have one person that does all the finishing. That’s an area where we’re specialized in. She’s doing two processes; on the lids she is spraying on our top polyurethane finish, usually two or three coats, and then she is hand rubbing on the beeswax and linseed oil, which goes on to the log fronts and the log corners and all the sides.”

Tough life on the prairie

There’s no doubt running a furniture business, whether it be a one-person custom shop or a wholesale manufacturer with 20 employees, has become a considerable challenge these days. Every decision is critical to business survival, and O’Connell is keenly aware of the current economic situation.

“You have a lot of dealers that are cutting back on their inventories in response to general economics. Between the housing market and the stock market shrinkage, which was the discretionary income for a lot of people, furniture is a category that has taken a pretty big hit and we’re in the furniture business.

We’ve had some pretty loyal customers and that has certainly helped us maintain our position in the market. The overall economic scene is difficult right now. The products are pretty interesting; we’d like to get back on our growth path with a little help from the economy and some new products. We’re fairly optimistic.”

Mountain Woods Furniture, 1512 Highway 230, Laramie, WY 82070. Tel: 866-689-6637, or 970-221-1041. www.mountainwoodsfurniture.com

Mountain Woods Furniture® Introduces the Rustic Arts Log Furniture™ Line at the Las Vegas Market

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Mountain Woods Furniture will introduce its Rustic Arts Log Furniture line at the Las Vegas Market later this week. Although the company manufactures a comprehensive line of handcrafted aspen log furniture, Mountain Woods had been deluged with requests from retailers for a line of log furniture at a significantly lower price point. Yet, co-owner Mike O’Connell refused to rush a slipshod product to market. “Not only did we need to reduce costs for our budget line, but we had to do it in such a way that each piece did not erode our very high customer satisfaction” he said. “The Mountain Woods Log Furniture brand is respected from coast to coast; we even have satisfied customers in Europe and Asia.”

Although their dealers asked Mike and his wife and business partner Dee to create budget-priced pieces, those pleas fell on deaf ears until they felt satisfied their craftspeople were able to trim costs without hurting the beauty or durability of the products. “Our dealers told us they had customers who aspired to our unique heirloom-quality line with its lifetime warranty, but the purchase of one of our bedroom or dining room sets was not realistic for them,” Dee said. “We strongly believe that in today’s stressful world, log furniture takes us back to nature and a more peaceful way of existing. It was difficult for us to accept that we didn’t have furniture choices for a segment of the market. Now with the Rustic Arts Log Furniture line, we have products for those families—and some commercial markets too. We also expect that many of those purchasers will move up to our Heirloom line over time,” she added.

 

 

The timing could not have been better for the introduction of this budget line. As Baby Boomers approach retirement age, many have purchased country homes and cabins with the intention of living there part time now and full time in retirement. This trend has fueled the log home industry’s explosive growth, and the O’Connells have happily ridden those coattails. “Even traditional furniture stores who in the past would never think of stocking log furniture are waking up to this trend and contacting us to help them meet the demand for unique rustic furniture,” Dee O'Connell said.

While creating the Rustic Arts Log Furniture line consumed much of Mike O’Connell’s time in 2006, he also rededicated himself to increasing the already high sustainability quotient of their furniture manufacturing process. With a gleam in his eye, he noted: “Sustainability is such a hot topic that the U.N. declared 2007 as the Year of Sustainability, and you can’t pick up a magazine, newspaper or see a TV program without some mention of the topic. Yet, sustainability has always been a focus of Mountain Woods Furniture.” He explained how they primarily use “dead standing” aspen trees for their furniture. That usage provides them with the raw materials to create unique beds, armoires, tables and chairs--but also cutting those dead trees makes the forest healthier!” The sustainability efforts do not stop with their wood selection. Dee O’Connell speaks to their careful selection of finishes and sanding methods that help keep their “family” of workers healthy and safe. “We want our customers to feel good about every aspect of our furniture—even the handcrafting and finishing process,” she said.

For more information, please contact , Mountain Woods Furniture at 866-689-6637.

Reclaimed Wood Furniture From Mountain Woods Furniture Featured in Natural Dream Home

Friday, February 06, 2009
By: Furniture World Magazine

 

Even in this challenging economy, sustainability and green manufacturing are still hot topics in 2009 says Mountain Woods Furniture. Green thinking, they add favors American furniture manufacturers, since transportation is a large factor in the carbon footprint of a heavy product. Locally-produced furniture not only puts more Americans to work, but it also has an intrinsic advantage for green consumers. For this reason, USA-built furniture was primarily selected for the 2008 Natural Dream Home project sponsored by Mountain Living magazine.

According to the Dream Team, “Mountain Living’s Natural Dream Home incorporates building materials and practices that preserve the health of our high-country environment and serve as living classrooms for sustainable and ecological building, design and development. Designed and constructed to surpass Built Green standards, using natural, reclaimed and organic materials wherever possible, this extraordinary home exemplifies Mountain Living’s commitment to responsible development in the Rocky Mountain West.”

The developer, Margie Hamrick, president of EcoExistence, notes that “There are many ways to build green without increasing the budget. For example, using local products and materials reduces transportation and fuel costs.” She continues, “My goal was to put together a team of professionals in the green community. Eventually, my community grew beyond the Vail Valley, into Denver and across the country. Using recycled materials is another way to reduce costs while going green.”

American-made reclaimed furniture was featured in a few of the rooms, and one of the most popular bedrooms featured the Wyoming Collection™ from Mountain Woods Furniture®, based in Laramie Wyoming. In selecting this furniture, the Mountain Living Dream Team was not only impressed with the beautiful designs and meticulous craftsmanship, but they recognized the manufacturer’s long-standing commitment to green building practices. As a Founding Member of the Sustainable Furniture Council, Mountain Woods Furniture® made the commitment long ago to use mostly reclaimed or “dead-standing” wood, and where necessary, supplement those wood sources with sustainably-sourced, locally-harvested woods. Scraps from production are used to efficiently heat the facility during the long Wyoming winters, and they use low-VOC stain and water-based finishes, minimizing indoor air pollution.
Nevertheless, all the green manufacturing processes in the world won’t help sell furniture if it isn’t well-made, beautifully designed, and durably finished. So, the Dream Team was thrilled to have their judgment confirmed when they heard praise heaped on the Wyoming Collection™ from the public and designers who toured the mansion during its many showings in 2008 and 2009. The final showing of this magnificent furnished mountain home was on January 31, 2009 at the Habitat for Humanity’s Gala Preview Party. Proceeds for the extravaganza were donated to Habitat for Humanity to build homes for needy families.

Designers and retailers who are not based in the Rocky Mountains will be able to preview the Wyoming Collection™ and the full line of Mountain Woods Furniture® designs at the Las Vegas World Market Center, February 9-13, 2009 (Building C-Floor 13, Lodge Living, Suite C-1376M/N). 

Benefits of Using Aspen Wood for Furniture

 

Aspen is one of the most widely distributed trees in North America—they are found from Alaska to Arizona and from Michigan to Maine. Two different species occur in North America: the bigtooth aspen located primarily in the northeastern United States and the Great Lakes Region, and quaking aspen — a western species. The scientific names reflect the leaves appearance. Populus grandidentata (bigtooth aspen) have large teeth around the edges and Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen) have skinny leaf stems that cause them to quiver in the slightest breeze.

Aspen Trees used in log furnitureStands of aspen trees are clones—that is they are genetically identical. Trees in these clone groups have a common root system and, through suckering, reproduce new stems. It is very rare that aspen trees reproduce with seeds in the forest due to their small size and competition with other plants. Aspen are shade-intolerant. They require full sunlight to grow and reproduce.

The clones are maintained through what ecologists refer to as “disturbance.” Historically, that disturbance was wild fire. As aspen stands matured shade-tolerant conifers would grow up underneath the aspen. When wild fire swept through the area, killing the trees, it created the perfect environment for aspen to flourish. Because the aspen root system was already established, regeneration could quickly grow in the open sunlight and with no competition from other plants.

Additionally, vegetative reproduction by suckers generally requires a disturbance or dieback that alters the hormonal balance within the tree. Basically, when the parent tree is killed or stressed, reproduction by suckering is stimulated. This stress or dieback was usually the wildfire that also removed the conifer competition.

Ecologists consider aspen a “keystone” species in the West. Generally speaking, the removal of a keystone species would cause a substantial part of the community to change drastically. Wildlife, recreation, wood products—lots depends on it. Millions of dollars are spent each year just from visitors traveling to view the fall colors.

Dallas Range

The loss of native aspen groves in areas of the Rocky Mountains is reaching crisis proportions, having declined as much as 50-95 percent in certain areas. As we prevent forest fires, we, ironically, reduce the amount of aspen. Because there are fewer fires the conifers often grow taller than the aspen and shade the aspen out. People want to see the beautiful fall colors, but they are disappearing.

 

Aspen stands are declining because of a lack of natural disturbance. If we want to keep aspen we can either allow these disturbances to return or we need to mimic the stand-replacing disturbance. However, large stand replacement fires are difficult to control and are generally not favored by the public. In absence of wildfire, harvesting the timber is a viable option. In order to save the aspen we actually need to start cutting to save aspen. Also, by harvesting the trees we provide quality wood with many uses.

Aspen log furniture is one of those uses. Aspen wood is beautiful, lightweight, and straight grained. Because some of the wood we use comes from dead standing timber, insect etchings provide fascinating character.

Aspen is good wood to work with because it is easy to shape and resists splitting. Because the wood is “soft” it typically uses less electric power to saw and shape. Additionally, because most of aspen log furniture is made from round wood or logs, there is less sawing and shaping.

Aspen log furniture is sustainable for both the aspen stands and American society.

 

About the Authors

Dave Case is President of D. J. Case & Associates and a Certified Wildlife Biologist.

Tim Longwell currently is completing a doctoral degree in forestry at Purdue University in addition to his duties at D. J. Case.

Since 1986 DJ Case has specialized in natural resources communications. Among their honors and awards, the Indiana Wildlife Federation selected them as the Conservation Organization of the Year in 1996.

For more information contact, D. J. Case & Associates, (574)-258-0100 or www.DJCase.com