Couple Turns Furniture Design Hobby Into Burgeoning Business

Joel and Nicole VanLaar haven’t parked their vehicles in their garage all summer. The couple’s side business, VanLaar Woodworks, has slowly taken over their lives and has claimed the garage as furniture assembly headquarters.

After flipping their first home, the couple’s interest in home improvement grew. They went on to build a new home in Hudsonville and, upon moving in, quickly realized they needed more furniture.

“We came up with an idea and Joel built some end tables for our living room. It snowballed into many pieces in our house where we could continue doing projects together,” said Nicole VanLaar, who handles client communications as well as taking on smaller jobs such as biscuit joining and painting because she’s “just starting to get comfortable with power tools.”

VanLaar Woodworks, buffet table

Joel VanLaar is in charge of the design, building and finishing of pieces, and that’s no surprise given his background. Growing up, his father was handy and together they fixed up every house they lived in.

“I don’t normally enjoy staining and sanding. I enjoy the building process and designing—that’s where we got our start,” he said. “People wanted something but they couldn’t find it in the store.”

After Nicole VanLaar started posting pictures of their work, family and friends reached out asking if they could build items for them. This custom work oftentimes comes with pictures of what clients are seeking and what fits their space, style and color scheme in their own home.

VanLaar Woodworks sources from many local wood suppliers and offers competitive price points to build quality pieces that are affordable, have local appeal and expertly match the client’s lifestyle.

VanLaar Woodworks, mudroom
VanLaar Woodworks, mudroom

With many ideas coming from Pinterest, HGTV and client requests, Nicole VanLaar also communicates to Joel VanLaar things that catch her eye. One idea has turned into her favorite piece.

“As a newly married couple we were figuring out how to combine our different styles. I showed Joel a French style buffet that I loved for our home and he didn’t care for it and the conversation ended there,” she said. Nicole came home later to find he had bought all the wood to start the buffet. “Joel did an amazing job cutting each quatrefoil by hand.”

Inspiration also comes from fellow woodworkers and a strong community on Instagram. While the couple’s styles may be different—she prefers more of a French farmhouse style and he leans toward modern tastes—when their ideas combine, they create something special, which is evident in the six custom pieces currently existing in their home. To date, the couple has five other projects drawn up and ready for production.

“Someday we hope all our furniture is something we made,” Nicole said. “This spring we have major plans for our basement. We’re thinking of doing a shiplap wall out of old wood from my family cottage, a live edge bar and a large custom built-in cabinet with barn doors. In addition to those pieces, we want to create custom end tables and build some deck furniture.”

VanLaar Woodworks, outdoor chevron table
VanLaar Woodworks, outdoor chevron table

When it comes to large pieces, most requests they receive are for farmhouse tables. A signature, standout style is the farmhouse table with chevron design top and a traditional x-style base.

Joel has also designed a cubby/bench/entryway piece that would be an onsite installation (which is also an option). “A client wanted a mantle farmhouse barn beam above the fireplace and I’m open to doing pieces like that,” he said.

But don’t rule out small pieces. “Small pieces can be fun and it’s nice to knock those out,” Joel VanLaar said. “They don’t take as much time to make. We can make smaller things like nightstands and media consoles.” His last project was a small entryway table. “The client wanted to stain it themselves. I built it, sanded it and prepped it and they finished it at home.”

When it comes to future projects, Joel VanLaar dreams of designing some commercial furniture and to craft a more organic and natural live edge piece out of hardwood (currently, the VanLaars are working mostly with soft woods).

Nicole VanLaar envisions creating a huge farmhouse table for her parents’ cottage. “A live edge table that seats 24 people, made from the oak trees that were on the property. It would be so sentimental to sit around a table that we created for family celebrations for years to come.”

But there’s one prospective piece that gives Nicole VanLaar goosebumps. “My dream project would be for Joel to make us nursery furniture when the time comes. Making a cradle for our future child would be absolutely incredible and would be passed down for future generations.”

For more information on VanLaar Woodworks, check them out on Instagram or email them for inquiries.

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