Maker Stories

Uncommon Impact: Amie & Matt Van Susteren–Spreading Sustainable Holiday Cheer

December 7, 2015

As a B Corp certified company, UncommonGoods is excited about sustainability. That means more to us than just being “green” – we strive to offer products that reflect the environmental and social best-interests of everyone. So, when our makers are as concerned with sustainability as we are, we’re always excited to learn more about their process and the positive impact they’re having on the world.

Filling Snowflake Boxes

While many of our makers rely on sustainable practices at one point or another in their process, we’re especially excited about those who place the wider world at the forefront of their craft – those who are making an uncommon impact. Meet the owners of Nestled Pines Woodworking, Amie and Matt Van Susteren — who make Maple (and Cherry) Wood Personalized Snowflake Ornaments — and see the ways that they’re helping preserve forests.

Living in Lone Rock, Wisconsin — about an hour west of Madison — is inspiration enough to make sustainable art, Amie tells us. “We’re on the Wisconsin River nestled in a valley. There are coyotes wandering through the backyard. It’s everything idyllic you can imagine about Wisconsin,” she says. “It’s beautiful, and there are so many resources here to be inspired by and pull from.”

Amie and Matt Van Susteren

Amie and Matt Van Susteren 

Seven years ago, the couple decided they wanted to change their lives and embark on a creative endeavor together — but they wanted to make sure any eco footprint from their business would be small. “That part was a no-brainer,” says Amie. “I can’t even imagine not moving forward under this philosophy.” Next, the painter and her hardwood-floor-making husband looked around to see what was at their disposal. “You’re sustainable by using what you have,” she explains. “That’s our motto.”

Forests are plentiful in their area, so it’s not a surprise that, as Amie says, “the wood came first.” Establishing their source material helped them see the laser wood cutter they’d recently acquired in a different light. “It was, ‘Well, we have this and we have this — what can we do with it?’” The answer: intricate wooden ornaments. “There’s a market for crafts in the U.S. and holiday ornaments always feel special,” says Amie. “There’s that sensation you have when you pull your ornaments out every year and they’re new all over again. We want our customers to get as much joy out of the product as we get out of making the work.”

Matt and Amie in the Woods

Before they started designing, they researched forests. They wanted to make sure that any growers they would source from — currently, Colorado Heirloom in Loveland, Colorado, though they’re also in talks with a forest two hours north of them — would use sustainable practices. “It means that the trees in the forest will do what they naturally do: They will die, fall over, replant themselves,” says Amie. “That means not removing the guys that are in the way, or cutting out all the maple if that’s trendy one year. We want an overall healthy forest, not someone who’s going to clearcut their cherry wood for us. We want what’s naturally falling.” (Sometimes, the changing supply of wood can lead to happy experiments. Recently presented with red cedar — a pink wood — Amie was inspired to design a flamingo-shaped ornament: “It’ll be done by the end of the year!” she says.)

Personalized Cherry Wood Snowflake Ornament | UncommonGoods

It followed that, if the forests they used were sustainable, then their practices should be eco-friendly — i.e., local — too. “It doesn’t make sense to ship wood to China, have it cut, then have it shipped back. We knew we could make a quality product in the United States and in town that was competitive with other ornaments.” Amie spends up to six hours designing an ornament. Then the laser “acts as a printer,” she says, making quick work of the cutting. “There’s no scrollsawing, which allows us to be competitive. We can stay in business and make a quality product.”

Their collection for UncommonGoods is their most intimate yet. “The packaging isn’t designed just to ensure the ornament ships well, but it’s also personalized.” And earth-friendly, of course. The boxes are made by Indiana-based Michigan City Paper Box Company from 100 percent recycled fibers and with 100 percent green hydroelectricity. Nestled Pines Woodworking also uses bows made from consumer recycled polyester and bags made from plant-based biodegradable material. Says Amie, “If there’s a way to make everything we touch eco-friendly, we’re seeking that out.” As for boxing everything up, that’s an extremely local operation: Amie and Matt’s three teenagers “help tie the bows on our packages!”

Personalized Boxes

Nestled Pines Woodworking is also proud to support its favorite causes. “I love working with the national parks and the state parks,” says Amie. “They’re champions of sustainability and conservation and have such a huge tasks of keeping things afloat.” So their company makes customized souvenir ornaments for parks such as Amie’s personal favorite, Olympic National Park in Washington — a rare rainforest! “We don’t charge the parks setup fees and we don’t insist on a minimum order. We’re not independently wealthy, but we’ve found other ways to donate. If I can create something that they can sell to continue their mission, that’s awesome and I want to do that.”

That generosity of spirit extends to their local community, too. “We just got done making designs for the local historical society and the fire department,” says Amie. “There are 900 people in our town — and it’s important to be available in both markets.”

Wood used in Nestled Pines pieces

In the end, Amie’s most excited that she and her husband were able to build a sustainable practice as a team. “It’s evolved and it’s very exciting to be doing this together, using what we have,” she says. “It’s just us operating out of our basement and our garage. Our equipment is just a laser cutter, a sander and sandpaper. We start with wood and wood is the final product. It just feels right.”

See the Van Susteren's Collection | UncommonGoods

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