Joel & Alyse Knudson opened Branches Furniture in 2013. Together with their three children (and Buster the dog), they have found their place in Canby, Oregon. Going outside the metro area allowed them to nestle in an acre getaway with all the space they needed to thrust Branches Furniture off the ground.
We spent some time talking with Joel at Branches’ Canby escape; here’s what he had to say about Lynard Skynard, the Corvallis bridge, and the muse of his wife.
1. How would you refer to yourself? Woodworker? Artisan? Craftsman? Creator and builder.
2. How did you get started? Building things as a kid. I remember whittling a marshmallow roasting stick, but the first real project was a cutting board in junior high shop class.
3. Why wood? It’s beautiful, it’s organic, and has personality and warmth. It has a history—I like that it tells a story.
4. What does being creative meant to you? It allows me to go where my mind takes me. It’s about going places where other people have not gone before—finding new ways to build.
5. Do you have any rituals? Not really, but I do drink a lot of coffee and listen to music while I work.
6. So what’s playing in the shop then? Right now it’s Simple Man, by Lynyrd Skynyrd
7. What is your favorite piece? Whatever I’m currently working on. And I’m proud of the Sampele dining table that built for our home. Really, I’m proud of most of the pieces I’ve built.
Sampele dining table
8. Who inspires you? Alyse doesn’t want me to say this, but she inspires me. I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for her encouragement. But if I had to pick one person who isn’t my wife, I would pick Jory Brigham. He does beautiful, unique work. He’s also created a successful business; his success is an inspiration.
9. What do you hope to communicate through your work? I don’t know about communicating. I just want to create pieces that last generations. I want them to be unique, affordable, and accessible for most people. I want them to be functional works of art.
10. If you weren’t doing this what would you be doing? I don’t know. It took me 40 years to find this.
11. What is the ultimate piece you want to create? I’d like to build a whole house from scratch. It would be everything I want, exactly how I want.
12. What’s your favorite thing about PDX? The creativeness and entrepreneurial spirit of the area. How everyone respects the environment, it’s inspiring. I don’t think you’ll find such creative environments in other parts of the country; I probably wouldn’t be doing this if I were in Ohio.
Project for Design Week Portland – Bench will have a lounge feature and book storage
13. Favorite bridge? The covered bridge in Corvallis.
14. Favorite neighborhood? No favorite, but I love my shop.
15. What’s your favorite tool? My hands.
Join Joel and Alyse from Branches Furniture at read:grain, works with reclaimed wood on Friday, April 28th from 4-7pm during Design Week Portland. For more information, go here.
Welcome to SoWa! The South Waterfront in Portland, OR, locally known as SoWa, continues to blossom with living and retail spaces. The area is modeled after the skyline of Vancouver, BC and is focused on eco-friendly living; nearly all of the buildings are LEED certified. Situated on the river there is easy access to downtown via the street car.
The Osprey – Block 37, a new 270-unit apartment building along the River Parkway, celebrates the connection between the river front and Portland’s active lifestyle. The design and material use, from Clear Vision glass to Reclaimed Smooth Teak, work to bring the outside in (and vice versa).
Located on corner of SW Gaines Street and SW River Parkway, Block 37 was designed to be contextual to its surroundings. The street level features the first waterfront retail space in SoWa, as well as a dog washing area, storage for kayaks/paddle boards, bikes and other gear. This storage area has a storefront presence which connects tenants with the urban riverfront walkway. Area visitors get a glimpse inside where Block 37 resident outdoor enthusiasts clean gear after a day on the water, a trip camping & hiking, or a long day in the (bike) saddle.
SoWa (The Osprey – Block 37 is the white building on the lower right side of this photo.)
GBD Architects describes the Block 37 design as a modified U-shape building which either projects or steps back to emphasize corners, breaks up the massing (adding a pedestrian scale); and provides shadow lines, texture and visual interest. The layout allowed for a second-level terrace and a common “living room” which joins a second-level deck fronting the river and greenway, further connecting residents to their surroundings.
“Our design approach, what we term ‘thoughtful living’ has been to think in decades rather than years, consistent with the overall vision for the Waterfront District,” said Paul Keller, founding principal and CEO of Mack Urban, the property developer.
Reclaimed Teak paneling welcomes tenants and visitors at the main lobby entry of Block 37. A street level seating area thoughtfully invites folks to sit and chat.
Inside, materials are posh with an expansive lounge, upscale kitchen salon, and a mail room with seating area and sofas. Reclaimed Smooth Teak* paneling accents the common areas, leasing office, and lounge/game room. On each level, the living unit’s entries are surrounded by the authentic 18th and 19th century planks that pay homage to the nearby river/water, having been used traditionally for boats and decks.
Altogether 4,900 sq ft of Reclaimed Smooth Teak with a natural oil/wax finish adorns various walls within Block 37. With incredible stability and an extremely durable surface from years of weathering and use, Pioneer Millworks traditional Smooth Teak is precision milled and sanded, showing the natural beauty of the wood grain. Offering an organic touch, it serves as a point of connection between indoor living spaces and engagement with the outdoors.
FSC-certified as 100% recycled, the teak planks further Block 37’s efforts to attain LEED Gold Certification. Other sustainable design strategies include: high-performance envelope, rainwater treatment, native landscaping, light-color roof with filtration rock garden, access to public transportation, and high-efficiency M/E/P systems.
* Our Reclaimed Teak is sustainably salvaged from Indonesia. 1% of all of our Reclaimed Teak sales are donated to conservation causes in Indonesia and Malaysia. Currently we’re supporting the Borneo Project in their fight to end the loss of habitat for the indigenous peoples of Indonesia.
Notorious for his sense of humor and discerning eye, Steve is great when you need to smile or need detailed expertise on wood finishes. He filled us in during a recent Q and A: forest fires, contracting, bluegrass music, and an unusual fear of antiques…read on for details.
What do you like about living and working in Upstate NY? The weather! No, not really. I dislike the weather here 10 months out of the year. I’m into 70 degrees with sun and we get that for just a few weeks per year…which does make those weeks extra special. Truthfully, the best part about our neck of the woods is that my family lives in the area. After traveling the country looking for a place to call home, my wife and I settled back here, where we grew up.
You’ve been part of our team for four years. What role did you start in and where are you now? I started stacking boards and bundling at the end of the moulder line. I could read calipers so Dave C taught me how to setup and run the moulder. Some time later there was a need for a finishing crew leader. While I wasn’t a finishing expert, I like to lead and learn, so I spent months researching finishes, reading everything I could get my hands on – including scouring forums of flooring contractors who freely gave their opinions of different finishes.
It seems like just yesterday I ordered samples of several different waterborne polyurethanes and tested them all. I specifically tested for ease of application, scratch resistance, and availability – I obviously had to be able to get the product when needed! I shared with our larger team and we decided on Vermont Natural Coatings because of their commitment to the planet; their finish is really good; and it’s made in the USA. Win Win Win!! (Specifically, Vermont Natural Coatings PolyWhey Floor Finish was engineered to take advantage of whey protein – a byproduct of the cheese industry. We can almost say that we are using a reclaimed product on a reclaimed product.)
What is your team’s role? I lead the finishing and samples departments – we produce about 1,300 samples annually, many of them fully customized for individual projects. Last year we pre-finished 30% of all projects – that’s several hundred thousand board feet. We also have a laser etcher which is a fun tool for special customization like adding logos or phrases to various planks.
What’s your background with wood? I graduated from the University of Vermont where I studied Forestry. I focused on forest ecosystem restoration – I wanted to repair damaged ecosystems, and restore Old-growth northern hardwood forests to the Northeast.
Slade Hall, University of Vermont. Steve and co-habitants created daily vegan and vegetarian meals and lived a planet conscious lifestyle.
Normally behind the camera during his Fire Line Sawyer days, Steve found one image of himself geared up in Yosemite.
After college, I did what every forestry graduate does: I headed west to fight fire. I worked three fire seasons with the National Park Service, primarily working prescribed fires in California, Oregon, Nevada, and in the Everglades. I worked my way up to a Fire Effects Monitor and Fire Line Sawyer before calling it quits. I watched fire burn around the bases of the Sequoias, was dropped off in the Yosemite backcountry via helicopter, and took a boat through the everglades to torch 10,000 acres of sawgrass. Ah, to be that young again! Immediately prior to Pioneer Millworks, I owned/ran a business installing tile and hardwood floors and doing light construction work. Overall, the workload was very up and down. Timing was right; Pioneer made the choice to leave my business very easy.
What about reclaimed wood appeals to you?
The idea that we reuse/repurpose wood that would have ended up in a landfill is very exciting to me. I am an active advocate for environmental causes and being able to work for a company that purposely limits it’s impact on the planet makes it very easy for me to come to work.
Which product is your favorite? My favorite product is Settlers’ Plank Mixed Oak. When sanded just right and oiled, to me it becomes the quintessential reclaimed floor. The richness, the mix of grain, the depth of patina, make it such a timeless floor.
On a side note, I would only use one product to finish this floor: Rubio Monocoat. By utilizing Monocoat you can be assured that you will never have to sand the floor to remove finish (like you would a poly or aluminum oxide) to fix a scratch, etc. Sanding would potentially destroy the original saw marks and coloration that make Settlers’ Plank what it is, so the finish is a key element.
What fun finishing story can you share with us?
Back when we used 2-component polyurethanes we would end up with some waste at the end of a job. Instead of disposing of the finish in liquid form, we would pour it into nitrile glove and let it set up overnight. You see, with a 2-component polyurethane, it has a pot-life of a few hours and then it begins to gel up and it eventually turns to a firm rubber-like consistency. We would dry out the poly hands, and occasionally ship them in care packages to our salespeople across the nation. We wanted to offer them a helping hand. All in good humor!
What are your hobbies outside of work?
In the rare instance that I have a few minutes to myself, I love to play Clawhammer Banjo. I started out loving bluegrass music until I re-discovered Old-time Appalachian music. Old time music skips the lyric driven tunes of bluegrass and throws out the mandolin and finger picks on the banjo. It’s a simple kind of music with big sound and a driving rhythm that will make you dance all night. My wife and I have vowed to instill a musical sense into our daughter from the day she was born. She attended her first music festival at 10 months old – The Great Blue Heron Festival near Jamestown. As a rule, we’ve determined that any festival that hosts Donna the Buffalo, is likely going to be child-friendly and fun. Otherwise, with a 5-year old in my life, my evenings are spent painting, coloring, and reading.
A family of nature lovers.
Care to share something quirky about yourself? I have a phobia of antiques – in particular, newspapers, furniture, dinnerware, and especially eating utensils. You won’t find me at an antique store looking for treasures. How do I work with antique wood with this phobia? I don’t know but I do love reclaimed wood even if it is old.
(A few more images from Steve’s fire chasing days are below):
Josh has been a member of our team for over a decade. If there’s a forklift moving around in our yard, Josh is most likely driving as he handles all of our inventory. He’s as accurate as our inventory software when it comes to answering “what’s in the yard?” off the top of his head. After a little cajoling, Josh shared more about himself:
How long have you been part of our team?
12 years! Pioneer Millworks and New Energy Works [our sister company] is a great community. We invest in our employees and I have had many opportunities to advance. I’m proud of our ethos and the incredible work we do. Also, we’re always finding new sources of wood. Sometimes it’s a small batch of locally sourced material…other times, we find vast quantities and develop new product lines around them. The products themselves are ever-changing and that keeps things interesting.
What do you like about living and working in Upstate NY?
As someone who loves the outdoors, what’s not to love about the Finger Lakes? I love the geography here; the hills, valleys, and glacial lakes…Not to mention, we’ve got an inland sea just a few miles to the north. More importantly, I come from a large family and most of us live in the area.
De-nailing and acquisition: Bryan, Josh, and Alex circa 200(?)
What’s your history with the company?
I started as an entry-level nail puller years ago. I’d just quit a horrible job and needed something temporary to pay the bills. I never thought I’d be here for over a decade, but it’s a great place!
What is your role on our team?
I supervise the yard/de-nailing team and manage our inventory. I’m also part of the acquisitions team.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
There’s always a challenging project going on, always something new and unexpected.
Which product is your favorite?
I’m terrible at choosing favorites. If I have to pick, right now, I’m really digging our Black & Tan [shown above in the 50/50 grade] I love when the wood has a story to tell.
Speaking of stories, you must have a fun story or two from your years here… Several years back Alex and I took a trip to Bethlehem, PA to load some industrial salvaged Heart Pine timbers and decking. Alex beat me at a game of pool that night and as a result I had to eat scrapple, and only scrapple, for breakfast the next morning. It was the first and only time I’ve eaten scrapple (a Pennsylvania breakfast staple apparently). When I ordered only scrapple the waitress gave me an incredulous look….I had to explain that I’d lost a bet. [Alex and Josh (above) remain friends and coworkers and still share the occasional ‘bet’.]
When ‘hover cat’ stormed the Internet, we debated on replacing Josh’s forklift with this new ride…always a good sport, Josh still chuckles when we bring this photo up.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
Between keeping tabs on my 3 year old son and minor projects around the house we bought earlier this year, I haven’t had much spare time. Too many hobbies to list but a few big ones: I enjoy fishing, hiking, gardening, home brewing, and playing guitar.
What’s your favorite book?
I could never pick a favorite…there are just too many. A couple of the better things I’ve read recently are “Suttree” by Cormac McCarthy and “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman.