Monday, 16 March 2015

Storyboard Furniture in Support of Leaf at the Green Living Show: Designing Sharpe's Hedra.

We are proud to announce that our "Sharpe's Hedra" was recently selected as one of twelve designs toward the maple leaf forever design exhibition and auction organized by LEAF.  The designs will be on display at the green living show and auctioned off onlineA portion of the proceeds for this project will support LEAF's urban forestry initiatives. 

The good folks at LEAF asked me to write this piece describing my design process toward making Sharpe's Hedra. I hope you enjoy it!  

First of all, I just want to say what an honour it is for my work to have been selected for inclusion among so many talented designers and craftsmen

My piece, “Sharpe’s Hedra” was initially inspired by the purity of geometry. My father earned his living as a mathematician, or more specifically a geometer. When I was a child, over meals, my father would present me with mathematical quandaries and other puzzles. This was an important part of my formative years. In thinking about it now, I realize just how much of an impact it has had in my life. Mathematics is perhaps the only discipline in which there is always a concrete answer or solution to a problem. I feel as though this early childhood education wired me to believe that there are but a few impossibilities in life and always to approach a challenge with this understanding. It has also provoked me to create challenges for myself.

This warm tradition of puzzling over meals with my father has continued into my adulthood. On meeting for breakfast some months ago, I presented my father with a geometric quandary of a fractal nature. We were not able to solve the problem directly as my vectors were faulty, on account of the corners not having the right relationship with the faces. But it did lead to a conversation about geometric duals. Which would ultimately lead to the development of a variant of a cube and its dual: “Sharpe’s Hedra”.

My formal education is in the delicate, and at times ephemeral, study of the fine arts and design. Ostensibly, one might say that it was an education of material science and craftsmanship. I studied at NSCAD University; in the jewellery studios I learned how to make things, and in the sculpture studios I learned why to make them.

After the breakfast with my father, I got out my sticks and hot glue and started in on establishing the geometry. I further created a mock-up in acrylic sheet. From the get go, I knew that I was creating a lamp and that it would need some sort of screen to soften the lamp glow. Paper seemed to be a natural solution. This far in my design process, I had figured out the ‘how’. The geometry was sound and materials made sense. But in terms of the whole piece, there was still the ‘why’ to be sorted out…

So much of the work I have been doing in the last three years has been attempting to honour the connections that people have developed with the now felled trees in their lives. One of the remarkable things that I have discovered from these efforts is the difference between the inside and the outside of these trees. There is a hidden beauty in the grain waiting to be discovered and each tree is unique in this way. 

Many sculptors historically have made this claim; that 'it' was always inside waiting to be revealed. For the first time in my life I can join their ranks with this clear in my mind. I have also noticed that while so many people are connected to the trees in their life, not so many are up to speed on their species identification. I am the first to admit that I am no specialist in this respect either. The paper needed perforations to allow heat dispersion from the bulb. I took this as an opportunity: seeing it as both a design challenge and as learning moment, to learn about species identification. The paper cutout pattern would reference the leaf or leaf cluster of the species of wood that the overall geometric structure was made from. This helped with the ‘why’.

Another design query related to the question of scale. There was a sculpture professor at NSCAD, someone I never took courses from, or, frankly, even had occasion to speak with. Nonetheless, I developed an appreciation of this professor through my fellow students, who seemed to have figured out something that would become very relevant to me. I suppose what they had learned from this professor was something fundamental about relating: the importance of asking “how does it relate to me?”

Can I walk through it? Can I stand next to it? Will it dwarf me? Can I hug it? 

"Can I hug it?” really stuck with me. It makes it a question of human scale. This helped with the ‘why’. This derivative tutelage was helpful for the overall volume of the project but the skeletal structure elements still needed their scale. I let the material speak to this aspect.

Many of the tables I make are book-matched from two pieces of wood. To join these while keeping an appropriate overall table width, I often end up with long off-cuts that fill up my shelves. So I designed the dimension of these skeletal structural pieces to give a second life to the off-cuts of the lumber that have had a second life. The ‘why’s’ had finally became enough to consider producing the product in earnest. … 

On naming the work: my understanding is that this variant of a cube and its dual is of a new geometry. Sharpe is my father’s namesake, and Hedra, related to Hedron; of being in relation to faces or geometric planes. In naming it thus, I had hoped to honour a part of my father’s life that has become my heritage. In a similar way, I feel it a privilege to have the opportunity to work with wood that has such an important relevance to our Canadian heritage: the maple leaf forever tree. And while I support, unconditionally, all of the efforts that have been put toward preserving the heritage of this tree, I hope that we understand that it is a celebrity, no more and no less than the hundreds of trees that fall or are felled every day in Toronto. As a brother, sister, mother, uncle or spouse, someone has a connection to each and every one of these trees. In a moment of serendipity, I have come to understand, while writing this text, that Hedra translates from Swedish to “honour” in English.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Storyboard Seasonal - Winter 2014

Happy New Year, and welcome to our first newsletter!

We're coming close to our first year as Storyboard Furniture! In the past year we've met many exciting milestones, with our efforts fuelled by our vision of telling stories through furniture, love for the work and your ongoing support.

An eclectic array of markets, festivals and shows have been home to our displays this year, allowing us to foster many connections and welcome new  communities into our story. From the wide open skies at Meadow Fest in Bradford to Toronto’s own Queen West Holiday Pop Up Market, people near and far have shown interest and excitement about Storyboard’s vision.

We are still filled with gratitude and  energy from the success of our Apple Wood Salvage Initiative and Indiegogo Campaign, through which we were able to raise almost $20,000 to help us buy equipment. Our salvage of roughly 200 apple trees at the Big'r Apple Farm on Heritage Road in Huttonville, ON caught the attention of The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The Brampton Guardian and CityLine. The hundreds of platters and kitchen ware yielded have now made their way to homes all over Canada, the US and Europe. You can now pick one up at stores such as Karma Co-op, the West End Food Co-op and Even and Odd or on Etsy. We continue to get people dropping by our studio to tell us their stories of picking apples in the Ferri orchards over the years.

An unexpected surprise took shape as several opportunities to incorporate public speaking as part of our work came up.  Each time we have received positive feedback often leading us to another exciting engagement.

In the Spring, we shared about our work and gave an Alaskan chainsaw mill demonstration to the Annesley Woodworkers Collective near Markdale. From that followed a summer partnership with LEAF and Karmatree to present the Salvaging Urban Wood Tree Tour in the Junction. We finished our speaking engagements for the year with the highlight of being asked to be one of the keynote speakers at the Urban Wood Utilization Forum at City Hall hosted by the Greater Toronto Chapter of The Canada Green Building Council. Dennis made an inspiring call for culture that you can read on our blog here. We were also invited as an industry leader to participate in the Urban Wood Industry Round table put on by LEAF and the City of Toronto's Economic Development & Culture office

Our Tree to Table custom furniture continues to be at the heart of Storyboard. As news of our unique process travels, we receive ever more orders for loved fallen trees and the memories they hold to be preserved through the process of being crafted into beautiful furniture. As we reflect on the amount of groundwork we have done in the past year, we look forward to dedicating more of our energy and time to this important work.

We also hope to continue to nurture out partnerships and investments in local culture as these inform our company profoundly.  This year we are going to be working with Mabelle Arts as part of their ongoing park transformation project. It involves artists, architects, gardeners and builders to work with Mabelle residents to re-imagine, transform and animate the Mabelle Park, located in the heart of the Mabelle neighbourhood in Etobicoke. We are excited to see how our work can be used to help with such an important community endeavour for change.  Exploring other partnerships with organizations such as LEAF and Not Far From the Tree, businesses such as House Proud Signs and tree care professionals such as Karmatree means we are helping to contribute to a sustainable urban forest.

We will be at the International Design Show for the first time this year where we will be partnering with Nelson and Garrett to launch an exciting new pendant lamp. Use promo code: EX14IDS to get discounted tickets online for and come see us at the show and opening night party! Stay tuned to our Twitter account for pictures of the event. 

Thank you for believing in us and our work, for telling your friends, and for bringing a piece of salvaged and crafted wood home. We invite you to stay connected with Storyboard Furniture, and plan on sharing about our progress in newsletters like this seasonally.
All the best for 2014 to you and yours.

Dennis & Mike

Friday, 25 October 2013

Call for Culture in Toronto's Urban Wood Utilization Plan

I had the honour to speak at a Forum for Urban Wood Utilization last night (Thursday October 24, 2013) hosted by the Canada Green Building Council. Here's a transcript of my call for culture.

In Toronto now, we are in the process of reframing the question of what to do with ill-fated urban trees from a waste disposal problem, to a resource opportunity. This is really a paradigm shift, and the path has been cleared for this by the great work done in other cities like Chicago.

From my understanding this shift has been driven by city budget cost recovery needs, along with environmental ethics. The recent example of the Maple Leaf Forever Tree however illustrates that culture should also be considered when disposing of urban logs. I believe it behooves us in Toronto to seek a further paradigm shift to see our salvaged urban trees not only as a material resource, but also as a cultural material. In fact I propose that Culture be considered the keystone for an urban wood utilization plan in Toronto.

The swirl of public and media attention the Maple Leaf Forever Tree generated in the past several months since it blew down this summer is a stunning example of our culture’s desire for artifacts that will memorialize our collective stories. Said to have inspired Alexander Muir to write the “Maple Leaf Forever” song - once considered a contender for our national anthem - this tree has resonated as a sort of celebrity death of national importance.

Looking at it coldly however, some historians call into question the providence of the tree, but that doesn’t seem to matter... The connection between this tree, Alexander Muir and our national narrative now has a life of it’s own. We seem to need a vessel to carry our stories, an artifact to remind us, and the people around us about our history, our values, and selves. 

This tree isn’t alone in its celebrity status. There’s the Comfort Maple on a farm in the Niagara region, which is said to be 500 years old. There are the ancient white cedar dating over a millennia in age which cling to cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment. The Black Oak’s in High Park have been particularly prominent in the news lately. Several websites exist to identify and list Ontario’s Heritage Trees, but when you start to talk to people and look around you don’t have to go far to find a tree that has a cultural importance. Every neighborhood has them, standing in front our government buildings, our schools, our places of worship, in our parks, and even in our yards. Not all trees will become heritage trees, or of historical significance to the nation, but almost all large trees will be important to someone.

I’m certain that nearly everyone can think of a tree that has been important to them. Perhaps you carved the initials of your first crush on its trunk, built a tree fort in it, or just relax in its shade. Perhaps it was planted to commemorate your birth, or when you bought your first home, or by some revered ancestor. These trees are a reliquary for the stories of our city, our neighborhoods and our personal lives. To get the most value from Toronto’s fallen urban trees we need to harvest these stories along with them.

Whether a tree is a celebrity like the maple leaf forever tree or a humble giant, the real value in salvaging logs from Toronto’s ill-fated trees does not lie in their aggregate commodity value. Cities are not efficient centres of resource extraction; they are centres of cultural production. Putting cost recovery as the core objective of urban wood utilization shortchanges Toronto.  In other words, a culturally nuanced, multifaceted approach to salvaging urban logs would leverage this resource to create greater economic outcomes for the city and it’s people.

I heard a story of a small woodworking company down in the states that acquired the saw log of an old hanging tree. They used the wood from this tree to turn gavels. These gavels sold for $6000 each, primarily to conservative judges. While a bit grim, I think this story illustrates how the cultural material heritage of a log can be leveraged to create an end use for wood that is not only more culturally appropriate, but economically valuable.

This past winter Storyboard Furniture salvaged nearly 200 apple trees from a fourth generation Apple farm on Heritage Rd, just outside Brampton. The farmer, Nick Ferri was retiring, and the land will soon be developed for subdivisions. Normally, Nick like most apple farmers would simply bring someone in to push the apple trees into piles to be burned and at first, he thought we wanted the wood for firewood. He was happy to hear our ambition was to tell the story of these trees planted by his father, and give them a new lease on life as beautiful handmade objects. When we told him we didn’t have any money to pay him for the wood, but we could make him something beautiful, his eyes became watery, and we knew that was exactly what he wanted.

We didn’t have the capital we needed to buy the equipment to take on a project of this size at the time, so along with a few other designers and artisans we ran an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. We raised about $20,000 in advance sales in this way.

What astonished us more than anything was the outpouring of stories and encouragement we received from people about the project. These were people who grew up in the area and people who drove out to pick apples there with their family every year. Now almost a year later these people still turn up at our shop looking for a piece of that orchard.

This summer, as promised we presented to Nick Ferri a fruit bowl, and salad server set made from those trees he’d been tending all his life.

To bring the analogy downtown, lets think about Queen’s Park, which has a concentration of huge trees, and even a couple endangered butternut of rare size. It looks like there is one there that when it dies will yield a 28” diameter by 12’ long saw log. This log would have a paltry commodity value of a hundred bucks or so if you brought it to a mill where it would be anonymous of its cultural heritage. I think this would surprise most people. If you did mention to the mill that the tree came from the city they probably wouldn’t take the log at all for fear of chipping a saw blade on some forgotten nail.

Now imagine how many people who live or work around Queen’s Park who would see special value in a desk made from one of those trees. The same could be said in similar situations all over the city. If the city were to make the logs from these trees openly and publicly available to city residents and businesses, together with their providence. I’m sure they will find Torontonians eager to pay a price above mere commodity values to participate, and to have a piece of the history and culture of Toronto.

To summarize, creating a framework that allows city residents and businesses open access to urban logs will:
·        Encourage a culture of hyper local utilization of urban timbers
·        will enrich their lives by reinforcing our connections to the city and urban forest environment.
·        Encourage a resilient diversity of craftspeople, artisans and small businesses who will transform city logs into a diversity of custom products.
·        Will create industry resistant to overseas job losses by being rooted in local culture.
·        create greater overall economic impact in the city than treating our urban wood as a low value aggregate commodity.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Last Day on The Farm: A Conversation

By +Katrina Siks

 “Unfortunately, it’s a good time to get out of apples”, he ponders on this last weekend his family will live on the farm. We’ll call him Sam, as while he’s happy to talk with those he knows all about the sale of the land, it feels too close to home to broadcast his family name.

got hail, frost, diseases… Infestations come up from the south, and they’re on the rise, that’s clear. There are different regulations between the States and Canada, and by the time the insects get to us they’re immune to what we can use.”
I felt honoured to have the chance to talk with him on the last day his family was on the farm. Three generations of sweat, 150,000 apple trees and 25,000 maple tree taps - or, as Sam’s grandfather described it, “your land, your college tuition… your inheritance”. A self-made wealthy man, his grandfather had been a pharmacist who had arrived in Canada with nothing. He didn’t want his children to grow up as spoiled city kids, so he’d put them to work on the farm.  

Those four children worked every summer, learned the value of their sweat, grew to love the land, and expanded operations. Soon they had degrees in agricultural science, families of their own, and a total of 4 farm plots of land they had joined together.

It was not an easy life, “there are so many things that can just destroy your crop in minutes, all your work all summer long.  Hail can hit you and not your neighbour – 10 minutes of large hail can tear your crop to shreds, and leave it to rot on the tree,” from the disappointment in his voice, you could tell that this had happened more than once.

“Though I’m glad I don’t have to spend two-thirds of my year pruning any more, I’m going to miss the place that’s for sure. It’s weird, it’s really weird. It hasn’t really settled in.”
With so much hardship, what had kept them there? “It was our family identity – to have a well run orchard... There were only another few growers around that put as much effort into their crop as we did.”
“My dad, he’s been in the orchard every day for the last 50 years, and the last 5 years with a cane, even in the snow, you’d have to fight the guy! He’d be out there with a cane and a pruner in the other hand. Beside him you’d have a new hire, an 18 year old football player type just sweating bullets, the young ones couldn’t keep up to him. They just don’t make them like they used to. My dad is a machine!”
“It’s amazing to spend even a day out there with someone like him that can just look at a tree and know instantly what it needs, how to prune it. Pruning is an art.”

It’s easy to imagine Sam learning from watching his dad – and both of them, learning from watching the land.  “There can be frost, they call them death valleys, where the cold air gets trapped in low land in the early mornings. My dad figured out a way to reduce damage from frosts – after watching the patterns of death over the years, he created wind tunnels to move air through the lower lands, carving out sections of nearby forest. This was something he came up with.” 
Hearing this, I’m in awe of the generations of observation allowing them to harness these assets of the land. Surely this depth of understanding is invaluable – but Sam shakes his head. The new owners, fresh from the city, “think they know everything…  we tried to let them know about diseases they might want to look out for, strategies to work with the land, but they’ve turned us down.”

“(The new owner’s) latest plan is to make an apple pie factory - but they’ve already missed their first window to prune the trees this winter! I wouldn’t be surprised if 10 years from now there’s no orchard there, or they’ll just let it go to shit. The trees grow so fast – even if you prune twice a year you’re barely keeping up. Its’ really sad, it’s not going to take long for them to be over-grown and out of control.” Sam sounds strangely matter-of-fact.  

“They’ll learn, or they’ll give up. But if they decide to sell the land, but it’s gone to shit, how will they make it marketable again?” Sam sighs.

“It’s just not going to be our family farm anymore.”

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Apple Orchard Storytelling Challenge

We are pleased to present and excited to launch The Apple Orchard Storytelling Challenge!

Writing Challenge

We're looking for your personal and true story about your experiences in and around apple orchards, and the meanings you've taken from these experiences in your life. It can be anything related to the orchards in the huttonville area or orchards from across the country. Your story can be as long as 500 words, a paragraph, or even as short as an haiku.


The grand prize winner will receive a live edge, hand sculpted FRUIT BOWL or, (if we get more than 20 submissions,) a COFFEE TABLE made from salvaged apple wood. Plus publishing of your story on our blog.

All finalists will receive a SERVING PLATTER as seen on our indiegogo campaign. Plus publishing of your story on our blog.

For the past 17 days of our Apple Wood Salvage Initiative Indiegogo campaign, we've been using our woodworking as a vehicle to tell the story of the Big'r Apple Farm, the Ferri family who farmed it for 4 generations, and Huttonville as a growing region in transition.
If you haven't seen the campaign yet check it out here:

We've also had great feedback from the family, and our community about the project. Many of you have contacted us letting us know a tidbit about your relationship with the area, be it going up to pick apples, or even growing up in the neighbourhood. Nick Ferri, the farmer who spent his life farming the orchard at the Big'r Apple Farm where we are salvaging the apple wood was kind enough to give us some of his story in an interview.

Nick Ferri interview from Storyboard Furniture on Vimeo.

There has been terrific media coverage of the campaign in the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, and The Brampton Guardian that's helped enrich and spread the story tremendously.

It has been a wonderfully rich and rewarding experience working on this initiative and we want to give something back to those people who take the time to record their precious memories for the public good. So we'd like to hear your stories,  let's have a writing contest.

The stories of the finalists will be posted on this blog. Anyone who's story is posted will receive a serving platter as seen on our indiegogo page. The best story of them all will get a great prize. If we have twenty entries or less it will be a unique live edge hand sculpted fruit bowl. If we have more than twenty, it will be an apple wood coffee table. In either case the prize will be a special item not offered as a perk on the Indiegogo page! How exciting is that?? Tell you friends and family!

The winning story will be decided by an impartial jury on March 22, the day before the campaign ends. The deadline to submit your story is the first day of spring, March 20. Please see below for the fine print* That's not much time, so get cracking! 

After the campaign ends we will bind all of the stories relating to the Ferri orchard into a book which will be presented to Nick Ferri. We are planning on making Nick a nice piece of furniture as well.. but a collection of stories about what made these apple trees meaningful to you, may just be the icing on his retirement cake.

Please submit your story in the comments box at the bottom of our website

Good luck! 

Mike and Dennis
Storyboard Furniture

*The fine print:

  1. There is a limit of one entry per person. Pick your best story! 
  2. Finalist stories will be posted to our blog. You agree that we are able to use your submission in this way.
  3. You also agree that we may also use your submissions at any point in the future in print, or on the web. 

Monday, 25 February 2013

My Grandmother's Plum Tree (Dzidra's Plum)

By +Katrina Siks  February 23, 2012 

I cannot wait to meet the bench I will have for the rest of my life. 

Last fall, Dennis and Mike looked on with enthusiasm as we cut into the tree trunk for the first time to reveal the inner workings of my Grandmother’s plum tree. It was a tricky cut - the trunk was an unconventional size; no one would normally mill a tree this small because the wood wouldn’t fit normal specs. 

The hues revealed caused my eyes to widen, shocks of purple bolting along the bark and pinks playfully threading through the grain.  I learned from Dennis that this colour had been left behind by bacteria that the tree had battled with for years. In the wood’s twisted shape and beautiful struggle, I also see my grandmother’s hard but beautiful life, and my imagination harkens back to a time before I was born.

Her hands were full of the hope of youth when she placed the fruit trees in the ground - one cherry, one pear, and “two plum trees, one for Papa and one for me”, my Grandmother said. For the young family from Latvia, hardworking factory workers, the trees were a lifetime of fruit - nourishment, enjoyment, a celebration of once again owning their own land in a new country. 

There would be years of banging pots in battle with the squirrels for those last few days before the cherries were ripe; years of over-indulgence in the fruit wine bubbling in the basement, while dancing the night away to polish polka records. The trees grew tall and filled the small Brampton backyard, just off McMurchy Avenue. Later they would entice a few grandchildren; eagerly I would gather the brightly coloured plums off the low branches and pop them straight in my mouth. 

When years were good, there was fruit. When years grew harder, there was still fruit. The struggle with Alzheimers lay Papa in bed for years, my Grandmother all the while at his side. When we laid his tree down with him it’s base was so decomposed that it just took a bit of rocking back and forth. “Papa’s tree died with him, and I’ll die when my tree dies”, my Grandmother said calmly, gazing out the window. 

In 2011, I pruned her plum tree way back, and left the last long branch still bearing leaves. My grandmother grew weaker. The winter of 2012 wasn’t particularly cold or long, it was just another winter, but one too many. The tree and my grandmother didn’t make it through.
Her tree took more effort to fell, the weight of the trunk substantial, still filled with sap and the struggle to live.  While the Brampton home was selling quickly, my thoughts regarding the tree were moving slowly – I couldn’t quite let it go to the roadside to be taken off for mulching and decomposition in the nearest dump. 

On my last trip of moving furniture and photos, I threw the trunk in my car, hoping that it would not become yet one more sentimental object that I trucked around without putting to good use. 

I called Dennis on a whim, perhaps hoping to borrow tools or hear a suggestion of how to care for this wood, but what he offered was far more valuable. “We’ll mill the trunk, and create something unique out of it”, he said, and what I heard was the  offer to breathe new life into my grandmother’s tree.

It’s been a few months now, and it’s ready - a bench! Just awaiting pick up. I feel so incredibly grateful to have met Dennis and Mike when I did, and for them to have taken this project on.  The memory of my Grandparents will live on in my house as a beautiful and functional creation,  a storytelling piece for the rest of my life.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Welcome to our blog!

We intend Storyboard Furniture Ltd. to be more than a business, it is a social enterprise, and it is art. It seems important for us to create a forum for our thoughts on these things that goes a bit deeper than facebook or twitter.

This blog will be a place you can come to hear some of the great stories behind our furniture, the lengths we go to make it, and the ideas we have about it.

Once we start to articulate these I hope there will be discussion, and I look forward to hearing some of your stories as well!

For the time being you can find out more about us in the following places:


Speaking of fantastic stories, we are running a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo at the moment to salvage an apple orchard near Brampton, ON that is steeped in history.

Apple Wood Salvage Indiegogo Pitch from Storyboard Furniture on Vimeo.
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