There’s no sign on the road between Saugerties and Woodstock to proclaim that Romancing The Woods Inc., a rustic furniture design-and-build business owned by area native Rob Davis, is the go-to place for Eastern Red Cedar garden furniture, but word of mouth is driving sales even in tough times.
In the tight economy of 2010, the company had annual sales in excess of $150,000, and 2011 is looking to be much increased. Davis recently completed a $12,000 “summer house” (basically a fancy gazebo) for the entertainer Bette Midler, who owns a home in Dover Plains. Midler was directed to Romancing The Woods by her landscape designer; a typical avenue of referral, said Davis. Other celebrities who own the company’s products include Eddie Murphy and Robert Redford.
In addition to supplying delightfully attractive benches to many parks affiliated with Scenic Hudson, probably its biggest customer, Romancing The Woods also sells benches to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando for use at the Animal Kingdom theme park.
Cedar is a tough medium
Davis began working for the company he now owns in 1992. One of four children, his father worked for the railroads and his mother was at one point the dockmaster at the Margaret Lewis Norrie State Park marina in Staatsburg, a concession then owned by his maternal grandparents.
Rob learned his own business the old-fashioned way, by working his way up, guided by a mentor in the specifics of harvesting locally-sourced cedar and mastering its unique carpentry demands. About seven years ago, aided by a business loan from Sawyer Savings, Rob bought the company from his employer, Marvin Davis, to whom he is not related.
Another former employee of Marvin, Mike Mattera, continues to work with Romancing The Woods, only nowadays he owns a boom truck with a crane. Working as a subcontractor, Mattera manages the company’s large-item delivery and installation, which often requires concrete piers to anchor the woodwork into the ground.
“We’re really, really busy. We have work booked all the way through to April,” said Rob.
The trim 38-year-old, who sports a neat ponytail, lives on Blue Mountain Road with his girlfriend, a professional nanny who commutes to Tarrytown to work for members of the Rockefeller clan.
Davis says that although he has two “amazing” employees, Joe Cook and Mike O’Brien, it’s not easy to find people with the right carpentry skills and attitude for working in the shop’s close quarters, building with wood used mostly in its natural cylinder shape. Fabrication is challenging both mentally and physically, and winter is chilly inside the converted automotive repair garage, heated by a wood furnace.
“Working with a round material as opposed to square (cut timber) is just very difficult to pull off well, but Joe got it right away,” said David.
“Mike’s still the new guy but he’s coming along,” said Rob.
‘Rob learned his own business the old-fashioned way, by working his way up, guided by a mentor in the specifics of harvesting locally-sourced cedar and mastering its unique carpentry demands.’
Cook relocated to Saugerties from Brooklyn about a year ago. He used to be a carpenter for theatrical sets. Cook and his wife, who works at The Phantom Gardener in Rhinebeck, are “sort of nomadic,” but they’re loving their new life as residents of Malden, and even won “best tasting tomato” in this summer’s contest held by the Saugerties Farmer’s Market.
“If you’d told me two years ago I’d be doing this and growing a contest-winning tomato, I would have just laughed,” said Cook, who credits a heartfelt speech on the area’s many merits delivered by Suzanne Wald-Balsamo and Jordan Balsamo, owners of Partition Street Wine Shop, with prompting the Brooklynites to relocate to Saugerties before they’d found good jobs.