Updated: Mar 22, 2022
Vermont Woods Studios brings beauty and balance into the world with their sustainably-sourced furniture, philanthropic initiatives, and stunning natural sanctuary and showroom
STORY BY BENJAMIN LERNER
PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY VERMONT WOODS STUDIOS
As Vermont Woods Studios’ President and Founder Peggy Farabaugh stands on the patio behind their spectacular Stonehurst showroom in Southeastern Vermont, there is a palpable sense of gratitude in her voice when she speaks on the chain of events that brought her business to where it is today. “I built Vermont Woods Studios on a foundation of environmentally-sustainable practices,” says Farabaugh. “At Vermont Woods Studios, we firmly believe that where furniture comes from, how it’s made, and the impact that it has on the environment is equally as important as its aesthetics and functionality. We built the Stonehurst showroom and outdoor nature sanctuary in line with that same philosophy.”
Situated on a pristine 109-acre plot of unspoiled wilderness, Vermont Woods Studios’ Stonehurst showroom is a showstopping testament to the power of ecologically-conscious commerce. Inside, exposed wooden beams, hanging light fixtures and chandeliers create an ambience of rustic splendor, which is further enhanced by the beautiful artworks that line many of the walls. The warmly-lit rooms are furnished with handcrafted furniture made by established Vermont artisan woodworking institutions, including Lyndon Furniture, Copeland Furniture, and Maple Corner Woodworks. The exquisite furnishings are all made with sustainably-sourced wood and are complemented by a wide range of beautiful Vermont-made home décor goods, such as custom metal lighting fixtures from Hubbardton Forge; striking tableware and pottery from Simon Pearce; and luxurious pillowcases, sheets and duvets from Anichini Bedding. Outside of the showroom, an inviting patio leads to a butterfly garden, an expansive valley, and lush, dense forests. A trip to Stonehurst is a feast for the senses on every level, and the story of how the showroom and surrounding natural sanctuary came to be is equally beautiful and remarkable.
From her earliest years, Peggy Farabaugh has always felt a deep sense of connection with her surrounding natural environment. Born and raised in Plattsburgh, New York, her life trajectory was heavily influenced by the nature shows that she watched as a young girl. Farabaugh recalls: “As a kid, I loved watching wildlife television shows, such as Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins. My parents also made sure that we were actively engaged with our natural surroundings. We would take walks to the woodlands near our house, hike near the river banks, and pick wild berries. Those experiences had a truly profound impact on my worldview.”
After graduating from high school, Farabaugh enrolled at SUNY Plattsburgh, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. Following her graduation from SUNY Plattsburgh, she served as an instructor at General Electric’s Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Saratoga, New York for two years. She then worked as a Senior Engineer for Impell Corporation, an engineering firm that specialized in the construction and rehabilitation of nuclear and fossil fuel power generation plants. In 1990, Farabaugh began working as a Project Manager for a private nonprofit company called Battelle Memorial Institute. At Battelle, she oversaw a large number of health, education, and environmental safety projects; and she completed a Master of Science in Information Technology Degree in Instructional Design at Rochester Institute of Technology in 1992. Farabaugh continued to pursue her education after leaving Battelle in 1996 and enrolled in a graduate program at Tulane University. After receiving a Master of Science in Public Health degree from Tulane in 1998, she became an Associate Professor there. Farabaugh then moved to Vernon, Vermont with her husband, Ken, and children in the late 1990s, and worked remotely to develop an online master’s degree distance-learning program for Tulane. She didn’t know it then, but the lessons that she learned during the course of her professorship at Tulane would later play a pivotal role in helping to catalyze the growth of Vermont Woods Studios. In 2005, the devastating havoc that Hurricane Katrina wreaked upon the city of New Orleans resulted in Farabaugh losing her job at Tulane. “I was living in rural Vermont after I stopped teaching online classes at Tulane,” says Farabaugh. “I would always complain to my husband that I had no idea what I wanted to do for work. My husband is very passionate about making furniture. It’s always been one of his favorite hobbies. At the time, he had built many wonderful handmade furniture pieces out of wood that our friend cut from the trees in our own yard.”
One day, Farabaugh looked around her husband’s shop and realized that she wanted to create an online business that sold handmade Vermont artisan furniture. “Most of our friends who were woodworkers made gorgeous pieces, but they gave most of their furniture away, because it was hard to find a suitable market for their products. I thought that I could use some of the technical skills that I had developed as an online professor at Tulane to figure out how to market their furniture to a larger audience.” During the years that Farabaugh spent at Tulane, she learned how to use the internet to find the small, niche group of people who were interested in taking her online master’s degree classes in Environmental Safety and Health Management. “I decided to apply my understanding of internet marketing towards finding environmentally-conscious customers who were interested in buying sustainable handmade furniture that was made in Vermont.”
Farabaugh adds that the rising level of global awareness regarding forest conservation also motivated her to start the business. “In the late 1990s, forest conservation came into the mainstream public consciousness. The scientific community started to figure out that we were destroying the world’s forests beyond a point of regeneration.” As Farabaugh was reading the research that was published by the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, she realized that she had to do something to help make a difference and raise awareness about forest conservation. “I understood that by selling sustainably-sourced Vermont furniture and making that a central part of our brand and business strategy, I could use the products that we sold as a platform to educate people about the environmental impact of their decisions and the benefits of sustainable furniture.”
Over the next few years, Farabaugh spent extensive amounts of time researching the online market. “We didn’t truly get off the ground until the internet grew and adapted to the point that we could build a website that adequately told our story and described what we were selling,” notes Farabaugh. “Over time, search engines got better at connecting people who were searching for what we were selling to our website. We were one of the first companies that was crazy enough to believe that you could sell handmade artisan furniture on the internet.”
Farabaugh also went above and beyond to develop relationships with artisan furniture makers throughout the state of Vermont, such as Vernon-based craftsman Chad Woodruff, Robin Chase of Maple Corner Woodworks, and Lyndon Furniture’s founder Dave Allard. “Dave Allard was the first big furniture maker in Vermont to form a business partnership with us,” says Farabaugh. “He had to have a lot of patience with us, because it took us a long time to figure out the subtleties of the market and how to effectively sell the furniture to the online audience.” According to Farabaugh, one of the most difficult aspects of developing Vermont Woods Studios’ online sales platform was figuring out the specific limitations of their online business model. “Over the course of the first five years that we were in business, we came to understand that custom-made, unique heirloom furniture is not an ideal match for online sales. We realized that if someone was going to make a big $20,000 purchase of a custom furniture piece, they needed to have a direct relationship with the person that’s making it, visit their shop, and fall in love with their products in-person. We’ve found that what people want to buy online is more affordable sustainable artisan furniture that is still incredibly beautiful and well-made.”
As Vermont Woods Studios continued to grow as an online business, Farabaugh decided to create an in-person showroom and natural sanctuary that would serve as a striking embodiment of both the beauty of Vermont artisan craftsmanship and the transcendental majesty of nature. After purchasing the historic Stonehurst mansion, she worked with a talented architect named Jeremy Coleman and a skilled builder named Bob Furlone to bring her vision into reality. The renovation took a year to finish, and the results are truly magnificent to behold.
“It was an extensive renovation,” says Farabaugh. “Stonehurst was built over 200 years ago. We found some of the first photos that were taken of the house, and we wanted to restore it to its original state.” Over the course of the renovation, the barn section of the building was rebuilt as a large showroom for dining room furniture, and the floors in the section of the house that was converted into a private apartment in the 1970s were lowered to make the building ADA-accessible. The exterior of the house was then repainted, and several bedrooms were redecorated and repurposed as administrative offices. Throughout the building, Vermont-made materials and design elements are artfully integrated into the structure, such as custom-made windows installed by Green Mountain Window in Rutland, and floors made of slate that was mined locally by the Vermont Slate Company.
When visitors enter the Stonehurst showroom, they are immediately greeted by a large wall of windows that provide panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and meadows. Farabaugh says that this was done intentionally to help customers acclimate to the bucolic Vermont ambiance. “The people who are coming to visit the Stonehurst showroom are not coming here by accident. They have found us online, and they are very interested in sustainability and Vermont artisan furniture. We have people drive here from as far away as California, Texas, and Minnesota. When they pull into our parking lot, we want them to know that they’re in Vermont. We want them to walk in the door and immediately heave a sigh of relaxation. The aim is to bring the outdoors inside for them regardless of the season and offer them a true Vermont experience.”
Whether customers purchase Vermont Woods Studios’ spectacular furnishings in person at the Stonehurst showroom or through the streamlined and intuitive online store, they are able to choose from a wide assortment of quality custom handmade furniture pieces. Many of the pieces are available in several wood-type options, such as cherry, walnut, oak, and maple. The majority of the cherry wood comes from the Allegheny plateau in New York and Pennsylvania, and most of the maple wood is sourced from small forestry operations within the State of Vermont. All of the wood is sustainably-harvested in North American forests. Some of the furniture pieces sold by Vermont Woods Studios have additional customization options, such as finish, dimensions, and framing style. For customers who are seeking to expedite the shipment of their furniture, Vermont Woods Studios has recently expanded their inventory to include a notable selection of pieces that are already made. “We used to have everything made to order, but the COVID-19 pandemic significantly slowed down the supply chain,” notes Farabaugh. “Many of our customers still prefer to have something custom-made to their specifications, but we want to be able to provide all of our customers with product options that suit their needs and schedules.”
Farabaugh says that as Vermont Woods Studios has grown their market reach, they have continued to run their operation in line with environmentally-conscious standards. Vermont Woods Studios’ business model isn’t just designed to promote the work of talented Vermont craftspeople – it’s also designed to make a noticeable impact in the fight for a sustainable future. “Trees absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. Conversely, when you ship wood and furniture overseas, it creates a large carbon footprint. Oftentimes, you don’t know exactly where the wood is coming from when you buy from overseas suppliers, and you don’t know whether it was harvested in an ethical and sustainable way. Knowing this, we decided early on that we weren’t going to use any imported wood. We only use North American wood, and we only buy wood that is harvested sustainably. We got a Top Score Sustainable Furniture Scorecard Recognition from the National Wildlife Federation for our sustainable sourcing practices, and we’re very proud of that. We want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” To that end, Vermont Woods Studios has recently joined 1% for the Planet, a Burlington-based business network with individual members and nonprofit partners in more than 90 countries. Farabaugh elaborates: “1% for the Planet is a group of businesses that promise to pledge 1% of their revenue to environmental causes. Every team member at Vermont Woods Studios is on board with donating the money, and I’m incredibly grateful for their willingness to participate. We give the money to a number of environmental nonprofits, but my favorite one is called Forests for Monarchs. They are a small nonprofit organization that works to restore the forests in Mexico where Monarch Butterflies spend the winter. I actually had the opportunity to go down to Mexico and meet Jose Luis Alvarez, who started Forests for Monarchs. He’s planted over 10 million trees over the last 30 years. We’ve managed to plant 100,000 trees through our philanthropic outreach initiatives since Vermont Woods Studios was founded.”
Farabaugh’s dedication to environmental sustainability also manifests through Stonehurst’s wildlife habitat. “The Stonehurst nature sanctuary has been certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat® through their ‘Garden for Wildlife’ program. We have a butterfly garden where we plant milkweed and nectar flowers for pollinating insects, and we also have a variety of fruit trees in our on-site orchard. We also have a wonderful network of trails that run through the property. Our customers can take a short hike through the grounds, or they can bring a picnic blanket, open a bottle of wine, and bask in the beauty of nature.”