If you’re not paying attention, it can be easy to miss the bent green sign along the side of the road that tells you you’re about to enter the town of Dennison, Minn. In fact, it’s easy to miss the town altogether.
In between the stretches of snow-covered fields and hillsides sit a few homes, a grain elevator and a Lutheran church. On the west edge of town, across the street from the Marathon gas station, a bright red building pops out among the dreary colors of winter.
The smell of wood dust and squeal of saws greet you when you walk in. The population of Dennison doesn’t even break 200, but despite its small town setting, big things are happening inside the wood shop on the west end.
“I always joke that Garrison Keillor’s jokes aren’t even exaggerations,” said Matt Eastvold. “I grew up eating potluck dinners and hot dish in the church basement, going to a Lutheran church and having a big family that fancied themselves Norwegians.”
But it’s in this small town in southern Minnesota that Eastvold and a team of craftsmen transform boards of walnut and bamboo into modern pieces of furniture.
“I like subtle design. I don’t like it to scream out at me.” -Matt Eastvold
When Eastvold arrives at the shop, the deafening whirl of tools already fills the space. Construction is underway as boards are glued and clamped together in one corner, and passed through a large conveyor belt to sand off rough edges in another.
“I like subtle design. I don’t like it to scream out at me,” the 38-year-old said. “I like it to just be really humble and modest.”
Eastvold grew up in a small town just over an hour from where he lives and works now. He built and sold his first piece — an armoire — to his sister when he was in 9th grade.
“I didn’t live in a disposable house. We didn’t buy things assuming they would get thrown out,” Eastvold said. “That stuck with me. At the time I didn’t realize it, but there was a lot going on that was teaching me about the aesthetic of your space.”
Despite getting a degree in elementary education from Bethel College, Eastvold headed north after graduation and worked for a cabinet company before opening his own business in 2003. He developed an eye for clean lines and an appreciation for the modern aesthetic while collaborating with architects to craft cabinets for their projects.
But in 2008 the orders stopped coming. When the recession hit, building projects stalled or stopped altogether.
“It was a really scary time for anybody in the industry because we went from being the busiest we’d ever been, to maybe the slowest it has ever been, in a short amount of time,” Eastvold said.
With the cabinet business slow to recover, Eastvold switched his focus to building furniture. By the summer of 2008 he decided to turn his hobby into a full-time endeavor and officially launched Eastvold Furniture.
Back in the shop, Doug Madsen lines up four wooden boards. Lying end-to-end, the sides of the credenza stretch out nearly 15 feet before they’re folded up to form the main body of the piece.
“I feel very strongly about keeping things as close to home as possible,” Eastvold said. “I want to keep as much work [here] as possible because it’s my community.”
That’s where the guys at Nest Woodworking come in. Eastvold shares a woodshop with the custom cabinet company and relies on its employees to manage most of the day-to-day building of his furniture.
“Nobody is getting rich off this, but we’re all living the good life and that’s important.”Matt Eastvold
A coffee table from Eastvold Furniture starts at about $920, while a large credenza runs up to $3,500. It’s a price Eastvold justifies with the quality of labor and materials that go into each handcrafted piece. From the sourcing of the wood, to the people who build the furniture, everything has a tie to Minnesota.
“[It’s an] important thing for me to provide some work and to provide good work,” Eastvold said. “Nobody is getting rich off this, but we’re all living the good life and that’s important.”
Despite the company’s rural setting (it’s not uncommon to see a farm tractor rolling down the road in warmer months), Eastvold ships a majority of his products to metropolitan areas on the coast, such as Manhattan and Hollywood. In order to ship a product halfway across the country, custom crates are built in-house to prevent fully assembled pieces from being damaged in transit.
Before Eastvold leaves the shop for the day he puts together a prototype for a new base he wants to try on one of his credenzas, and leaves Madsen with a few last-minute instructions. Since launching in 2008, his furniture business has steadily grown. But as Eastvold looks to the future, he’s in no hurry to make it big. What’s important to him is that he finds a way to keep manufacturing local and continue to produce a quality product.
“I’d love to see it grow,” Eastvold said. “[But] I feel like right now I’m living the dream.”