College alumns turn out the tables
CORNWALL — Dena Greenman and Doug Clarner seemed poised to follow some conventional career paths when they graduated from Middlebury College in 1994. Greenman, who majored in literature, wanted to become a teacher. Clarner, who focused on economics, readied himself for employment in the world of finance.
But it’s not unusual for people to flip life’s script and audition for a dramatically different professional role.
That was the case for Greenman and Clarner. The two longtime friends have decided to eschew the white collar world for something decidedly blue collar — the manufacture of personalized, handcrafted tables that serve as “recognition gifts” for retirees, newlyweds, graduates or anyone else with an achievement deserving of accolades. They are calling their business the Vermont Table Co., which sources the bulk of its raw materials from the Green Mountain State.
“It has been exciting to set it up,” Greenman said of the business, rounding out its first year of table production. Clarner makes the tables in his barn workshop in east Burke, while Greenman processes orders and conducts marketing from her family’s Cornwall home.
Clarner took to woodworking soon after leaving Middlebury College 21 years ago, Greenman explained. He established his workshop in a barn on his property and has been making fine furniture for clients throughout the region. Among his wares were high-end, wooden tables that had become popular wedding presents. The tables are capped with a stone surface in which a copy of the wedding invitation or other appropriate message can be engraved using a high-tech machine.
“We thought, ‘What else can be engraved on the table,’” Greenman recalled.
They reasoned that the tables could be offered as recognition gifts that could be presented by institutions, businesses and clubs seeking to reward people celebrating special achievements. The duo sold Dartmouth and St. Michael’s College, among others, to order tables for people they wanted to salute in a special way.
So promising was the concept that Clarner and Greenman decided to spin it off late last year as a separate business, as Vermont Table Co. Clarner would focus on the manufacturing end of things, while ceding to Greenman the administrative tasks that were not his forte.
“We realized it was a product that had legs,” Greenman said (no pun intended) of early feedback on the traditional Shaker-style tables, which are 26 inches tall, with a 17-inch-square surface in which a 12-inch stone tile is inlayed. The tables are made of cherry wood, with walnut used for the mortise and tenon joints.
Clients have three choices of stone tiles: black granite, Vermont verde antique marble, or slate. The slate and marble for the tiles are sourced in Vermont. And Greenman noted the Vermont verde antique marble can only be found in the Vermont town of Rochester.
The legs and aprons of the tables are provided by the Newport Furniture Parts company based in Newport in the Northeast Kingdom.
Until recently, Clarner had to contract out the engraving work to a company in St. Albans with a machine that can translate any image into an engraving. Thanks to a successful grant application, Vermont Table Co. was able to acquire its own engraving machine, thus ensuring the timely filling of orders. Greenman has examples of the tables with the Middlebury College and Dartmouth College seals engraved in stone.
Each hand-made table retails for $395, a price that Clarner and Greenman believe keeps the product competitive. The tables also benefit from being Vermont made.
“The tables are like Vermont — lovely, but hardworking and sturdy,” Greenman said. “(The product) feels like it is connected to the quarries and the mountains.”
And the tables are far more than eye candy, Greenman said. They are built to be sturdy and utilitarian.
“These table are going to be around for 200 years,” she said.
Greenman is confident the business will reach its target of selling 100 of the recognition tables in its first year. The partners have set loftier expectations for year two, when they hope to move 500 tables. Greenman continues to work the phone and attend shows to sign up new clients. Locally, Middlebury College is one of several NESCAC institutions to offer the Vermont Table Co. product through its campus stores. Porter Medical Center gave recently retired CEO Jim Daily one of the tables. Legendary Panther women’s lacrosse Coach Missy Foote was also feted with a Vermont Table Co. gift upon her retirement earlier this year.
Word of mouth has also served the company well.
If the orders continue to increase, the Vermont Table Co. could provide work for carpenters who now face seasonal layoffs, according to Greenman. And the duo has not ruled out expanding its roster to include larger tables. But right now, they are focusing on the one model until the company gets better established.
More information on the company can be found at vermonttablecompany.com.
Greenman has noted that those giving the tables feel almost as happy as those receiving them. They represent a nice departure from the conventional plaque often bestowed on honorees.
“It is an opportunity for the gift-giver to feel so excited,” Greenman said. “(The tables) are so unique.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].