In 1976, Lewis Judy and Toni Gilbert began a woodworking and stained glass studio in an old school bus shed on their newly purchased property in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. They proudly added a small showroom to showcase their furniture and called it “Jefferson Wood & Glass.” Toni designed the furniture and built stained glass for the early projects while Lewis did the woodworking.
Through the years, the designs changed from the late 70’s traditional red oak furniture to more contemporary designs in the 90’s. Although their showroom was beautiful, it got too small for what they wanted to do. Toni decided they needed to push the edge; with an education in art she felt confident that they could manage a bigger project. They gallantly built a fine arts and fine woodworking gallery on their property. Master builder Rob Johnston worked with Toni as she designed the structure and they set out to manifest it into reality. She also began inviting artists and woodworkers to join them at the completion of the building. By this time Lewis and Toni had been in business for 15 years and they knew how to promote themselves.
When the gallery was done, the couple felt a dramatic shift in business as they dropped the stained glass and renamed the business “Made in Jefferson”. The Made in Jefferson gallery phase of the business drew local and national attention and was showcased in three Taunton Press books: Design Book Five, The Workbench Book and The Workshop Book, one issue of Fine Woodworking magazine and they made the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. The local people were curious and flocked to Lewis and Toni’s unique place in the country.
The gallery featured art and woodworking shows—a new one every six weeks. It was impressive to see Oregon’s governor and two senators drive up in their black cars during one gallery show. Toni’s promotional prowess pushed the sales of the business so quickly that Made in Jefferson was named Oregon’s fastest growing secondary wood products company in 1990.
The business really took off and they eventually added three employees, three buildings, and a wood drying kiln. One of those employees was Hector Santana, who brought woodworking and finishing expertise to the furniture making. The gallery years were profitable but intense. Designing and building furniture for a high end clientele took its toll on Lewis’ health. He and Hector had to build everything that Toni got orders for. Lewis and Toni were working long days building furniture , traveling statewide to clients homes in order to design specialty pieces, deliveries in the evening, and working in their gallery on the weekends. Lewis and Toni had to do it all, the business was too specialized to delegate even part of it. The human body couldn’t keep up the pace and soon they were dreaming of the more relaxed lifestyle that they had in the 70’s. After three years in the gallery, something had to give.
They closed the gallery and renamed the business “Northwest Timber”. There was big auction (Many thought Made in Jefferson had gone bankrupt. Why else do you have an auction?)
Throughout this time, Lewis bought local salvaged walnut logs, hired a highly skilled sawyer to mill it into lumber, which was then kiln dried to perfection. After it was carefully planed and sanded, he used the wood to build their furniture. He loved being in nature and wanted to retain this aspect as they changed the business. He was already proficient at logging trees and was a good salesman. The reorganization took some time. Hector found work elsewhere but eventually came back as our shop manager.
During a wonderful period of rest, Lewis ran Northwest Timber with the phone and e-mail, eventually launching our website in 1995.
In 2003, Lewis and Toni’s adult children Sara Judy and Ryan Robb joined Lewis in growing Northwest Timber into a multigenerational company. Sara stepped in as sales and marketing representative while Ryan helped grade and organize the inventory while attending college to earn a nursing degree. In December of 2004 Northwest Timber launched its first items onto its online store. After 6 years and 3 store platforms we are still finding new ways to improve our product and service. Ryan eventually left Northwest Timber and moved to Arizona to complete his education. Hector, Lewis and Sara continue to build the current online inventory.
Throughout the years, Lewis’ woodworking background has proved invaluable in talking with clients about their project needs. His years of harvesting, drying Oregon walnut lumber, and then applying it to his own projects has given him unique knowledge of how wood works and how it needs to be handled in order to result in stable, clean, and beautiful lumber.
Boesel, J. (1990, June, Issue 82). Conference Tables. Fine Woodworking Magazine, 90.
Landis, S. (1990). Fine Woodworking Design Book Five. Newtown, CT, Taunton Press, 161-3.
Landis, S. (1990). The Workbench Book. Newtown, CT, Taunton Press,106.
Landis, S. (1991). The Workshop Book. Newtown, CT, Taunton Press, 35, 37.
Toht. D. (1989, Spring). Oregon Elegance. Better Homes &Gardens Remodeling Ideas. Des Moines, IA, Meredith Corp.
Multiple articles in local papers: The Oregonian, Albany Democrat Herald, Salem Statesman Journal and the Corvallis Gazette Times