Wolf & Pine: A Memoir of Wood

Anytime I can leave something as natural as I found it, those are the pieces I love to make. I want to showcase the natural beauty of the wood. But what I love most is when others love it too, when they see the beauty in it also.
–Matt Rowe

Professor, geobiologist, and author Hope Jahren said that “a tree’s wood is also its memoir.” Trees can live hundreds of years, and I believe their wood tells many sacred stories of nature and people, lives and families, and most of all, dreams. And this particular story begins with a boy and his grandfather, and many summers of beautiful trees at their Parry Sound family cottage. The smell of fresh wood, feel of hands whittling toys and trinkets, and words of conversation stay in Matt’s memories and inspire him in building and handcrafting wood furniture. Much of what he learned and loves started with lessons from his grandfather. Between carving and whittling with his grandfather, journeying through years of artistic and creative talent (painting, drawing, sculpting), as well as marriage and building a new home, Matt and Victoria Rowe find lately that their life is transforming into an unexpectedly beautiful up-and-coming family venture called Wolf & Pine Woodworks. IMG_9156Matt Rowe, the hands behind the work, recalls memories with his grandfather of learning first basic lessons in transforming natural wood into finished products. With his grandfather, he remembers cutting down trees, cutting boards and firewood, tackling projects around the property, and most nostalgic of all, cutting down birch trees the year before his grandfather died. That birch was used in wedding decorations for Matt and his wife Victoria. It was the smell of wood he remembers, patterns of the grain, and the natural earth-trees-and-soil experience of cottage country. Eventually, that sacred outdoor time alone became a creative outlet, and Matt’s life is growing a beautiful foliage of skills and passion for working with his hands and wood.

Matt’s love of wood these days is emerging as a very pleasant surprise and potential for a much larger venture run by Matt and Victoria: what started out as a hobby is carving out an energy and momentum all its own. While dating, Matt drew several art pieces for Victoria, having grown up with a natural passion for the visual arts; once married, Matt began building wood pieces for Victoria and their new home. As soon as family and friends saw the finished pieces, orders naturally started coming in, as the beautifully-built and stained handcrafted furniture spoke for itself. Little did they know, a spark had landed, lighting the way for so much more.IMG_9082Since then Matt has been making one-of-a-kind furniture and decor, designed himself, from so many kinds of wood (cherry, oak, maple, pine, walnut), always purchased locally, including live-edge table tops, gorgeous and unique headboards, bedside tables, blanket ladders, geometric hexagon wall shelves, charcuterie boards and maple serving trays, and reclaimed wood coasters. As well, he recently began designing beautiful and unforgettable furniture for newborns and babyhood, including a slender handmade rocking cradle and childhood growth charts on pine board: all natural, modern and yet gentle pieces perfect for any nursery, baby’s room, or family space of love.

Matt’s furniture work is beautifully built and finished, rich in colour, graceful and solid, traditional yet contemporary, sleek and impressive. While some pieces are dark in stain and some lighter in provincial finish, other pieces are live-edge, warmed up with oil to bring out the organic and artistic patterns of the natural wood grain, and to show off the personality and inner warmth of the tree.

With enthusiasm growing in the one-of-a-kind handmade wooden pieces created by Wolf & Pine Woodworks, you can often find Matt and Victoria on a Friday evening, connecting together in their living room while preparing for their busy upcoming week. Orders, customer and business contacts, designs for wood projects, local materials to be sourced and purchased, social media building, marketing, and planning for the hands-on work are on the forefront of their minds as they scope out their weekly plan and their short term plan, and even dream together about their long-term hopes for where their combined passion for building, designing, and handcrafting is leading them.

Trying to keep up with the forward momentum and also taking time to establish a firm foundation for their business is key for them as it unfolds rather quickly and happily with an organic energy of its own. Relationship with their buyers is important, as well as shaping community around their business. Almost faster than they can keep up, the couple is now trying to establish their brand, their values, develop a website, build Matt’s list of furniture project orders, and keep up with how the completed pieces naturally keep leading to new orders, mostly through word-of-mouth, and on Facebook and Instagram. A recent order for five custom-made headboards for a customer and their beautiful new family cottage in Halliburton is an easy sign of more good things to come.

So why does this team work so well together? Victoria and Matt explain that they are very much a good partnership, because they each take on pieces of the puzzle, and together, they fit. Matt designs and makes the furniture, but Victoria also has hopes to learn a bit of the trade someday. Since orders have started coming in more frequently, Victoria has begun taking the orders, gathering the customer’s visions, and relaying these details to Matt so he can plan or sketch an initial design and the idea can come to life and blossom. Victoria is growing their brand on social media, posting photos and responses on Instagram and Facebook, whereas Matt designed the logo for the brand. Victoria says there is always a conversation. They have a great flow of process that is starting to define their roles. Matt always offers content and ideas, but Victoria wants to give him as much time and space as possible to do what he really loves: making the wood decor projects. While Victoria works with the customers on ideas, pictures, suggestions, rough sketches, and other details, she can take these inspirations back to Matt for collaboration, as he continues to build and imagine.

For them, it’s all a collaborative effort. They want to support each other, the community, and even non-profit organizations, particularly Sanctuary London which values at its core the poor and excluded, and down the road even consider workshops, summer camps, teaching kids, and communal woodworking spaces. They are in the idea phase, but also planting a solid foundation. Both of them want to showcase the work and the brand as much as possible. The brand, they explain, demonstrates their values, their dreams, their product, but most of all, who they are and where they are in the story.

Intrigued by the uniquely designed logo which represents their Wolf and Pine brand, I asked Matt and Victoria where this logo came from, and what it meant to them. They described the logo as very central and symbolic to their business and partnership. Matt shared that much of himself was in the choosing of the wolf: his love of the outdoors, love of animals, and love of being alone, but also his love of being in this with Victoria. The wolf, he explained, is one of his favourite animals. The wolf can be a lone wolf, or part of a pack; the wolf is also strong and intelligent–a description which Victoria says suits how she sees her husband. Also, much of Matt’s earlier work that started this journey was made of pine, a wood that he loves.

As we took a tour of Matt’s workshop and photographed him in his element, working with his hands on the wood, Matt and Victoria showed me their favourite tool, only a couple of months old: their new brass wood-branding iron which, when heated up with blue flame, embeds a warm-brown wood-burned logo on every piece Matt makes. Burning their logo onto wood, they shared, makes everything real. At the core of their business, it represents the quality of Matt’s work, and forms a symbol of their partnership, values, and love for the product and their customers.

Here you can watch a video on Vimeo of the process of heating the iron and impressing the wood with the Wolf and Pine Woodworks logo by clicking on this sentence.

When I first became intrigued and took notice of Matt’s work, it was because of a dark-stained coffee table and blanket ladder in the home of family friends. Staying over to look after their dog, the large coffee table was the perfect cozy place to put my tea, journal, laptop, and books, and once settled in with a comfy throw over my lap, I fell in love with the feeling of home. Instantly, I was drawn to the bold cuts of wood, the simple yet warm charm, the sleek straight lines, the gorgeous deep black-brown stain, and the contemporary yet traditional-rustic feel of the wood. The coffee table was elegant yet generous in size, easily fitting in front of a four person couch, open at the bottom for magazines and storage, yet partially closed at each end with a simple and solid ‘x’ design.

My first question was who made it and is he going to make more?  It was the modern design with an underlying feel of relaxation and family-living that drew me in.IMG_8975Not long after, I fell more in love with online images of their natural wood headboards and rustic hanging doors, as well as the beautiful wolf logo. Once the logo appeared, I knew it was time to take notice; there was  a seriousness and care and confidence that was emerging behind this talented craftsmanship. I was also touched by an Instagram Post, in which the couple shared a bit of their love behind the business: “What started as a hobby for Matt has grown into a passionate side hustle for us as a couple. We love creating, building, decorating and all things pretty (mostly Victoria) but most of all, we love working together and (literally) building the future we always dreamt of, together.”IMG_8845 On a Sunday afternoon in May, I was lucky enough to visit the home of Wolf and Pine, the place where all the magic happens, hoping to peek into the story and the faces behind the business itself. As a writer, I know that most everything with a ‘spark of something’ has a story surrounding it, and I was curious to learn more. Matt and Victoria met when they were fifteen years old, became high school sweethearts, dated for 10 years, fell in love, got married four years ago, and then Matt first started making his pieces in the garage of Victoria’s grandfather. Once they bought their house in Lucan, their home garage was transformed into the much-used woodworking shop.

The woodworking business has brought them closer; they were surprised by how naturally this process is unfolding, as it was not something they foresaw or planned on before their wedding. They reflected that their families are on board and have supported them in huge ways, which means a great deal to them, and that word of mouth through family and friends has been extremely helpful.IMG_8982 Since a social media presence was created and family and friends caught on, orders have been swimming in, much to the joy and approval of their gorgeous golden retriever Logan, who loves to chew on wood chips and bark and scraps of live-edge wood. I toured the home of Matt and Victoria, and sat at the table with them to talk and have tea, and fell in love with many of their beautiful wood pieces decorating their house and making it feel contemporary, peaceful, and warm. Things like charming wood lamps in their bedroom, a rustic hanging door between bathroom and master bedroom, large framed mirror, harvest table, wooden built-in living room shelving in modern and stylish white, end tables in one round piece of live-edge wood, as well as the drying places of so many cuts of pine, oak, cherry, maple, and more.IMG_8884Behind every beautiful piece of work of art, there is a creative process and a joy in making things with your own hands. For Matt, the process starts with one piece of wood, uncut, unfinished, often live-edge. He gets his wood locally, and one of his favourites is walnut, as well as beautiful barn boards waiting to be transformed into something new and beloved. He enjoys attending antique stores and flea markets to find wood and old furniture pieces, and he gives a big shout-out to the Sylvan Sawmill outside of Parkhill, where the owner has not only been a great help to Matt and become his main go-to, but is also becoming a good friend.

Matt said his major inspiration comes from the wood itself–a unique relationship: sometimes the wood shows him what it wants to be, and sometimes he comes to the wood with a purpose and image in mind. He loves getting unique pieces of wood, and says that you can never have too much wood in your house! Part of the vision that drives him through his process is how the wood naturally comes together: “the wood determines what you can do with it.” He loves the sense of warmth and comfort from the wood as he works, but mostly, he loves imagining what it will become. Matt shared with me, “anytime I can leave something as natural as I found it, those are the pieces I love to make. I want to showcase the natural beauty of the wood. But what I love most is when others love it too, when they see the beauty in it also.”

As I have been getting to know Matt and Victoria and learning a bit more about their life of wood, I am also learning how that natural beauty in wood, which Matt mentions so often, is revealed to the world. Some say trees are social, and others say the leaves of neighbouring trees never touch to let the light through. My dad, who worked with trees all his life, led me to believe the magic is in the soil, where the trees first begin their ascending. And others feel a deep connection with the wood through specially cut and built pieces in their own home. Just as there is a variety of grains in wood–straight, irregular, diagonal, spiral, interlocked, and wavy–our creative inspirations, life dreams, romance and desire for family can take us in life directions that we could hardly anticipate, yet we wholly embrace. Matt told me he loves discovering the grain of the wood, loves letting the wood lead his instincts and his hands, and loves to uncover and be surprised by the unique beauty and personality of each piece. I hope that he and Victoria will continue to be surprised in wonderful ways by all that the beauty and gifts the wood and world is offering them.

And so we come back to Hope Jahren’s words that “a tree’s wood is also its memoir.” For Matt and Victoria of Wolf and Pine Woodworks, the early shape of that memoir started with Matt’s grandfather’s deep love of wood, transformed into Matt’s love of wood, and continues today with a life stage of new marriage and house, new handcrafted furniture business, family dreams, and now, most incredible, the growing of their own beloved baby, due in January! The story is still shaping itself and the natural beauty of wood keeps surfacing again and again: rustic, natural, shaped by hand, and born into something surprising and beautiful. As they shared with me, they have many long-term dreams for their business to grow and flourish, along with their little family, and they want to find beauty in what is becoming, quite literally, a foliage, a forest, and a foundation of home. Live-edge in wood, live-edge in love. And a new little seedling on the way.

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Some stories from home, some from travel adventures (usually in autumn), some happening in community, friendship and faith, and some about the vulnerable, lonely and excluded. To honour them because they have changed me for the better and taught me how to love more fully and be loved more fully. Some days are great, some good, some not always good. But overall, it's been a beautiful journey so far, and I feel more like myself every day. -- Debra, writer / photographer / blogger / traveller

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