On a rainy afternoon, a lone garage door in a Chanhassen neighborhood remained open. James Rothstein stood inside, wood shavings at his feet and a smile on his face, welcoming a visitor to see one of his latest creations, an outdoor farmhouse table, which was days away from delivery.
But there was more to see beyond the table. The single car garage has a lot on its plate. It’s busting at the beams with his family’s bicycles, children’s toys and household extras, not to mention Rothstein’s woodworking tools and equipment, stain and paint supplies and stacks of red oak boards.
In the happy chaos, there’s a diamond in the rough, waiting its turn as it rests against the rear of the garage and peeks over a hill of this ’n’ that—a slab of butternut wood already looks dreamy without any stain or lacquer enhancing its natural beauty. Rothstein would love to work with the slab, but there’s an obstacle. “[Slab work] is fun to do, but I haven’t had time,” he says.
Since 2015, Rothstein has been fine tuning his woodworking skills, one table at a time. About three years ago, a friend’s parents were downsizing and giving away a miter saw. Rothstein decided to take it—and a chance. “I had no idea what I’d do with it,” he says. After finding some free, used wood pallets, he dipped his toe into the world of woodworking. YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest provided enough how tos and know hows for him to make a start in taking trash and turning it into a little treasure.
“I made a really amazing coffee table [from the pallets],” Rothstein says. It turned out so well that it sold in 10 minutes off of Facebook. “Hey, I have something here,” he recalls thinking at the time. Rothstein moved up to construction-grade wood and created more coffee and dining tables, launching Arboretum Village Furniture. Most of his orders were coming off of Craigslist. The demand was such that he had to stop posting ads for his work until he could catch up with orders. Work also has to slow down during the winter months for a more practical and peacekeeping reason—when his wife, Brenda, needs a warm spot to park her car!
There’s not a lot of intricacy in Rothstein’s work, but that appeals to his clients. Table legs typically feature one of three designs: X (think trestle table), metal pin and standard/straight. Rothstein prefers to stain the pieces (but will heed clients’ requests), giving wood grain its proper due. Most customers (around 70 percent) ask for a honey stain, which, surprisingly, features a red tint hue.
While he hopes his business will go full-time by June 1, 2020 (either in a larger garage or commercial space), Rothstein also operates another business, The Maid Man. The full-service housecleaning business was launched by Rothstein about nine years ago. He had been a manager with a bagel restaurant before changing his career course. He cleans during the day, six days a week, and turns to his furniture making after his son and daughter (7 and 8 years old) go to bed for the night.
Even if Arboretum Village Furniture provides full-time work, Rothstein intends to keep a few of his cleaning customers. “I love serving people,” he says. “That’s the coolest thing I can do.”
There’s another “cool thing” that Rothstein did, as well. He had a special new client come calling—Hope House, which is an emergency shelter in Chanhassen that also offers support and counseling for youth in crisis. (“On any given night, as many as nine young people are homeless in our own Southwest Metro community, a conservative estimate because of how difficult it is to track homelessness ... Homeless youth 21 and younger are the age group most likely to be homeless and experience a higher range of being sexually abused and involvement in prostitution because of [their] vulnerability,” according to openhandsfoundation.com.)
The home was in need of a dining table, and Rothstein offered to charge only the cost of materials for an eight-foot table and four benches. He then reached out to the community and was able to secure financial support to purchase the materials. Making the order meant more to Rothstein than most projects. “Just to think about what [the teens are] going through … That was the most meaningful thing I’ve done,” he says.
It’s not lost on Rothstein the importance of a family table. A lot happens around and along them. Meals are shared. Holidays are celebrated. Decisions are made. He points to his own family’s first table. When he offered to make a new dining table, his wife hesitated. Their first table held so many memories, and she wasn’t sure that she wanted to give it up quite yet. To honor the table’s role in family milestones, Rothstein removed the legs and secured the remaining tabletop on the garage wall, so even the fork marks etched into one side of it provide a visual reminder of their daughter’s early attempts at mealtime independence.
Rothstein clearly is a lifelong learner, seeking out new ways to create and serve. Next up, he hopes to perfect making wood tables with epoxy inlays, which give the impression of sliced stone or rivers of color running through a table. Color and movement collide to create an amazing textual collaboration with the hosting wood. Rothstein shows an example of his first attempt. Not bad. But he knows what went wrong with the board. “I learn from mistakes,” he simply says and promises to keep plugging away until he creates a customer-worthy piece.
Regardless of his future, Rothstein knows the present is secure. “Right now, I’m just happy,” he says. “The key in life is to be happy. That’s success to me.”