BETWEEN FRIENDS: the White Hill couple create bespoke wooden furniture
Amid the COVID pandemic, when all sorts of businesses struggled to stay afloat, a White Hill couple turned to making and marketing custom furniture.
The new business was born naturally as Gordie Marr and Denis Miller-Marr spent nearly 25 years renovating their farmhouse before starting a small business they call Farm Heart.
“We live on the farm where I grew up. I am the third generation, so our children are the fourth. When we moved in, we started renovating and we did it ourselves, room by room. Because we were doing the work ourselves, we moved forward on time and money,” Miller-Marr said.
They can tell you that renovations never fully end.
“We did the house, pretty much top to bottom and the old snowball effect kicked in, so we came back and redid some of the changes and we’ll probably do a few other things,” Marr said.
Over the years, Marr has built some of their furniture, starting with bookshelves and small tables.
“Family or friends would see something Gordie built and they would ask if he could make them something like that or something a little different,” Miller-Marr said.
Marr is quick to point out that he is not a trained carpenter and had to learn by trial and error.
“My dad used to walk around the house a bit as needed, but my mom’s family were carpenters. His father and his brothers were good carpenters. Unfortunately, they were gone by the time I became interested in furniture making, otherwise I probably could have asked them questions,” he said.
As COVID restrictions dragged on, Marr spent a lot of time building pieces, sometimes from his own designs and sometimes trying something his wife saw in a magazine, catalog or online.
“One night I realized that people we knew really liked what Gordie was building, so maybe other people might be interested in buying. Gordie was a little shy about it initially, but we decided to try selling a few pieces and see what would happen.
While Marr was busy sawing and sanding, Miller-Marr created a webpage that describes the furniture as rustic, handmade, and unique, with custom sizing and styling. After making a cozy scene with good lighting, they posted pictures of some framed mirrors, a blanket ladder, a coffee table, and a console table.
“We were immediately surprised by the interest. Apparently a lot of people like what we consider a farmhouse style and a lot of people really like the ability to get something that fits their space and their needs exactly,” Miller-Martin said.
Sometimes clients know precisely what they want and just need someone to build it, but very often they like to discuss their ideas.
“We’re trying to get an idea of where the room is going to go and how it’s going to be used, and then maybe Gordie will suggest a few options,” Miller-Marr said.
One of their most popular items to date has been console tables in various sizes and styles, including some with slanted legs and a couple that allows for wine storage.
“It’s easier to build something when you’ve practiced on similar parts, but I like it when someone asks me something I’ve never done before because it’s a new challenge. Customizing a piece is the best part for me,” Marr said.
He laughingly recalls a difficult custom piece that took more work than expected.
“The client wanted a particular type of wood on the top, so that’s what I built, but it just didn’t work. It wasn’t something I wanted my name on, so we Went to the hardware store for more wood and put a new softwood top on it but that didn’t work either.In the end we went with a hardwood and the third try was really the charm so we were all happy.
Marr typically works with pine, maple or oak, but uses a wide range of stains and finishes.
“We help people figure out what colors they want and whether they want the whole room to be colored the same or maybe use a few different stains,” Miller-Marr said.
The couple plans to use hemlock to build outdoor furniture this spring.
“Hemlock is a great choice for sturdy outdoor furniture, so we have some ideas and hope to have a few pieces available in the near future,” Marr said.
Right now they release several new pieces every month and it’s a comfortable pace as both have full time jobs.
“We have no intention of quitting our jobs and making it a full-time business, but it could be a nice little side hustle for us when we’re ready to retire. That’s if we still profit from it,” Miller-Marr said.
They only started offering products for sale last fall, so plan on stocking a few Christmas items this year.
“Looking forward, we know we should have some demand for Christmas tree necklaces. It’s a decorative piece that we made first for ourselves and then for friends. They’re a lot smaller than a table, so we’re going to try to get a few of them moving forward,” Miller-Marr said.
The company’s name comes from a blanket ladder that Marr built for a niece.
“When it was finished, it outlined the shape of a heart and it kind of connected me to my mother who had passed away, so it seemed like the right name for us,” Miller-Marr said.
Just recently, Marr’s mother surprised him with an old tool that belonged to his grandfather.
“It was really nice to pass that on,” Marr said.