Huston & Company BlogAll PostsAcademic and Library PostsFor Your Home Posts December 9, 2022 in For Your HomeHoliday Family Musings Huston & Company Origin Story There is a residual feeling in my body offering a sense of deep nourishment; feeling warm, grounded, and a bit sleepy. Our family just gathered around the dining table (a classic Drop Leaf Table and set of Shovel Chairs designed by Saer) to celebrate family coming together. The echoes of the full palette of foods, words of connection, and slow time are still alive within. The fire is going and games are being played. I am caught in a quiet moment of reflection on family lineage of our Huston family and beyond. (Image: The Dropleaf Table and set of Shovel Chairs designed and built by Saer for his home. Photo credit: Meredith Perdue) It is a privilege and a practice of many this time of year to gather with family and/or community to break bread, share a meal, and land in deep presence together. It feels like perhaps no better time to share a bit of a story, history, or love song if you will, of the origin of Huston & Company, a family business that was built on and continues to thrive with integrity and connection. The reflection that follows is long and rich, get yourself cozy, grab a cup of tea, and enjoy the tale of how the Huston & Company business was born of passion and relationships. (Image: Xenia Foundry. Photo Credit: Aleks Huston) Bill Huston (founder of Huston & Company) was born and raised in Yellow Springs, Ohio. He grew up “in the shadow of a family business” the 3rd generation of the Xenia Foundry (now currently in its 5th generation). Bill credits his father for creating a non-pressure environment for him to step into being a part of the business, an attitude he would inherit and lend to his three boys later on in his life. Bill had aspirations to become a teacher and began his college with education as his track. He soon realized that the subjects of study just were not holding his attention. Travel, cold nights, and longing offered him the space to reflect on his right next step: he would go back to college and only sign up for classes that inspired his interest. The next year he signed up for all art classes. He found himself captivated by the artistic process for both aspects of tapping into his innovative mind and for the ability to use his own two hands to create. (Image: Bill with his work bench made in Norway) Bill continued to follow his passions and searched for learning opportunities. He found himself at the Scandinavian Seminar woodworking school in Norway for a year, working one on one with a mentor who began to teach him how to hand plane projects made out of wood. He remembers the instructor’s gentle demeanor, and the awe of his capacity to take him under his wing and teach him (without knowing English) how to use his hands to work with wood. After a rich experience, Bill remembers the mentor taking him up to his private stash of hand wood planes and guiding him to pick out the ones he would like to have for his own. (Image: Custom writing desk, an early piece by Bill Huston) Bill was deeply influenced by this first mentorship and wanted to keep learning and honing his wood craft skills. He applied directly to the Norwegian wood working school and in response was offered to attend the school free of charge enrolling him as if he were a Norwegian student. He again landed in an individual scope learning environment and expanded his woodworking skills beyond building with just hand tools and learned how to work with power tools and machines. Tables, desks, chairs were produced over this 2nd year in learning. Back in the USA, Bill landed his first “mediocre” woodworking job in Massachusetts. The job had not fully captivated his interest, Bill clearly remembers flipping through the magazine Early American Life and being struck by an ad for Thomas Moser in Maine. The pieces caught his attention and wondered about the possibility of building furniture of that caliber. As Bill had done previously in his life, going after what he wanted, he picked up the phone and next thing he knew he was in Maine meeting with Thomas and his wife Mary. The summer of 1976 he was hired to be a part of a three man woodshop. This began the Huston legacy in Maine. It wasn’t long before Saer Huston was born into the family, July of 1978. At the time Bill had a name book and both he and his wife fell in love with the name Saer— be it for their soon to be boy or girl. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that Bill saw the translation for Saer in a Welch name book that said Saer = one who works with wood. He didn’t know at the time the serendipity of Saer’s name. Bill continued to work with Tom Moser and his growing shop. He worked there a total of 12 years, and in that time watched the shop grow from 3 woodworkers to over 125 employees. Bill clearly remembers the day he knew it was time to transition to a different shop. He had worked his way up in the business from builder to shop manager to supervisor, and in this new role found himself in the office staring blankly at a list of clients. He scanned through the list of clients and realized he did not know a single person on the list. This illuminated a lack of intimacy and connection that he really valued with the customer. He longed to be in a deeper relationship with those who he was building furniture for. April 1st, 1988 Bill left Moser’s shop and began to start his own shop on his property in Poland, Maine. This was the beginning of Huston & Company. The relationship that Bill developed with Tom was maintained and influenced in a positive way at the beginning of his business. Tom would refer clients to Bill that his shop was not able to tailor the unique requests. (Studio End Table, designed by Bill Huston. Photo Credit: Chris Smith) (Image: Bill in Poland, Maine building Huston & Company) Having the workshop on his home property allowed for an easy flow from home to work. Bill remembers this time being pretty easily balanced between working in the shop and tending to his family. He remembers being able to see the bus coming and welcoming the kids home from school, setting down the tools for a bit to tend to a game of baseball. Saer too remembers the comfort of having the proximity of his dad’s shop right next to their home. He felt his steady presence before and after school, and felt the value his dad placed on time with family. In reflection, Saer sees this ease of flow from work to family as part of the benefits of the family business; the ability to work flexible hours to be present to the needs of the family. (Image: Bill building Huston & Company in Poland, Maine.) During this time, Saer remembers the times they would go into the shop to build gifts for family members around the holidays. In the process of being in the shop and using the tools, he recounts “zero pressure” from his father to assume interest in taking over the shop which landed in him as a sense of freedom to follow his own passions. A few years after the conception of Huston & Company, Bill met his now wife, Mia Millefoglie. Together they welcomed Bill’s youngest son, Collin Huston, in 1991. Bill and Mia decided a move to Southern Maine would better fit their lifestyle and desires. It was 1995 that Bill and his family moved down to Kennebunk and purchased both a new home as well as began the build of the current shop property on Log Cabin Road in Arundel, Maine. The years to follow include not only the completion of a gorgeous new shop location, but the building of a solid business model on this new land. (Image: Bill Huston and Wife Mia Millefoglie with their son Collin Huston) Bill clearly remembers the first time that Saer came into the shop for his own steps into woodworking. It was 2002 and Saer was creating huge frames for his eight oil based paintings of Mount Desert Island rockscapes. Saer remembers this as the first time he moved from a raw piece of wood into a refined product; eight beautiful silhouette box frames that highlighted his rock paintings. Saer graduated college that year, fell in love with his now wife, Genell (this is where I enter the picture) and together fly out of the country to New Zealand. After many adventures, Saer and Genell find themselves back on the quietside of Mount Desert Island looking for his next right step. For Saer that included a call to his dad to discuss the potential of working in the shop. Bill was over the moon, and asked for a commitment from Saer, of which Saer agreed 100%, and gave Bill a 6-month window. Eighteen years later, Saer is still there, and has now stepped into the role of Shop Owner. Saer recounts that part of the lure calling him to the family business was the flexibility offered by being self employed. His strong values of adventure and free spirit could be supported even in this new job. That along with the job offering a place for his creativity to be attuned; the arts and creating with his hands had been a part of his life, creating rock walls for landscaping, oil painting, sketching. And creating with purpose and sustainability felt important for Saer to name; there is a functional and useful purpose to the products built that could be used for generations to come. When Saer began, he came to the shop with no specific woodworking skills. What he did come with was a bit of anxious energy about what it would be to step into this already flowing shop as “the boss’ son”. He wanted not to be tagged with any privileges because of his connection. Saer stepped in with determination to show his integrity in showing up, working hard, and ability to learn new skills quickly. Saer stated, “I came into a small shop of 4 middle aged men who were all super experienced.” During his time with this small team, Saer reflects on the gift of being able to learn the trade not only from his dad but the other men as well. He really enjoyed learning the varied approaches offered by the men to build the same product and for sure felt the benefits of the many teachers. (Image: Saer Working in the shop. Photo credit: Meredith Perdue) Bill recounts that Saer quickly impressed and was accepted by all those in the shop with his presence, quick skill development, and hard work. When reflecting with Bill about what it was like to have Saer working with him in the shop, as father/son, he paused, a big smile filled his face, and he said, “it is a joy, truly incredible.” He recognized that the relationship that he and Saer have been able to foster is quite different from other family businesses. He said that often a question he gets from folks is “do you fight all the time”? Of which he responds, “no, we never argue.” Instead, he says, “together we have created a vocabulary”. He shared an example of Saer starting a sentence and not needing to end it as Bill knew the idea that was coming through. Bill said, “It is a joy to watch his skill, talent as a craftsman, designer, partner, and now shop owner.” Saer says “we have both benefited from not having strong egos or attachments to a particular way.” In that, Saer was able to learn from Bill how to understand an aesthetic and then supported and encouraged to explore his own way to woodworking, dimension, scale, and design. The smile that Bill wore when reflecting back was true to Saer’s experiences as well as their relationship. He felt the love and support from his dad, and reflects, as a dad of his two boys, a similar embodied joy from watching their own pure play. “It is like when I watch the boys surf, I get as much joy and excitement from seeing the ways they move, explore, and play in the ocean. Their joy fills me up.” As I listened to the truth sharing from both Bill and Saer sharing on this sympathetic pure joy, the yogi in me couldn’t help but remember the word Muditā (Pāli and Sanskrit: मुदिता) which can be understood to be sympathetic or vicarious joy, or the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being. There is a softening of the heart and a deepening of acceptance in spaces where this is truly palpable. (Image: River Console table, Designed by Saer Huston. Photo Credit: Chris Smith) After 50 years of building furniture and 34 years being Shop owner, Bill has now passed the baton to Saer, the next in line to run the Huston & Company family business. As he steps into his retirement phase of life he feels the anxious step into the unknown. Woodworking has defined his whole working life. And, yet he shared excitement for the adventures that are yet to come, getting after it (read it as life) “while I can.” When asked what he will miss the most from time away from the shop, Bill said, “the relationships” referring to the familial relationship and customer relationships alike. (Image: Bill and Saer talking about how to save the world. Photo credit: Meredith Perdue) When speaking to the transitions ahead, Saer too named the relationship with his father as impactful in his day to day flow. “I’ll miss him. It will feel more like a job and less like a family business.” When reflecting on this, he let out a little chuckle and smiled to say “I don’t imagine he will be done” and said that he would always be welcome to come in and share his wisdom and passion with the team. Saer spoke of gratitude to inherit the business at this time when the business is well positioned and thriving, “I feel fortunate to not only will I be taking over a beautiful craft and trade as a business, but, I will be stepping into a business that has a solid reputation, an incredible team of builders (including Brenda, Huston & Company’s front of the house, all things operations superhero) and strong presence in our community.” (Image: Bill and Saer Huston at the Arundel Huston & Company Shop property). During the years of Saer exploring and building his woodworking skill, he also purchased a home in South Portland, married Genell (me), and created two beautiful boys, Keller (age 11) and Riley (age 8), and most recently welcomed a new puppy Ruby Dog (aka Shop Dog). Our home is filled with custom fine furniture, from countertops, standing mirrors, chairs, beds, tables, bathroom cabinets, our home rings with a creative craftsman touch. Our boys are growing up in the legacy of a family business, and it is having an influence, of which the future remains a mystery. (Photo of Saer and his family. Starting with Ruby dog in the background. Top right to left: Keller, Genell, Riley, and Saer). Last night laying in bed with Riley (Riley had just inherited our bed, a custom platform bed with drawers, built by Bill over 40 years ago…), we were sharing a fictitious story of Wiggles, a character who essentially lives out Riley’s life in a dreamscape. Wiggles was in the process of designing and building his own bed. As Wiggles went to knock on the door of the woodworker, Riley interrupted me and said “oh, I know whose house that is, it is Grandpa’s’.” I smiled and thought how sweet it is for our boys to be building their life around integrity and relationship; how the integrity of wood filling our home and its solid grains continue to weave us all together. After a full day of building in the shop with his mentor, Wiggles returns home, brushes his teeth, and falls fast asleep. The rest is still to come. (Riley Huston in Huston & Company Shop. Photo Credit: Saer Huston).