I had the address, 9386 Judicial Rd, Prior Lake. I left the cities at around 5:45 p.m., wanting to make sure I would be there on time, if I got lost. I’d never been to Prior Lake, never been a big fan of the suburbs in general, but this drive felt different. In little moments where traffic wasn’t all around me and I could look around, I found it all to be quite beautiful.
About a half hour of driving got me close to my destination. I turned on Judicial Rd, went down a little ways and the inevitable happened–I got lost. Nervously worrying if I’d be holding someone up behind me, as I slowly moved from house to house, all a quarter mile apart from one another, I checked my rearview mirror. Nothing. An empty road in America, surrounded by her beauty in the form of trees full of green, of fresh smelling grass and of birds chirping gleefully.
Judicial Rd eventually ends, if you’ve driven as far as I had. I turned around and headed back the other way, not finding any driveway with the number I was looking for.
So what was I doing out in Prior Lake? Looking for the recently moved into headquarters of Beams & Boards, the passionate venture for Joe and Kristina Donner. I’d stalked them online, I’d been to a couple establishments where their work was displayed, I needed to know more.
But I was lost.
After a few emails to set up the meeting, Kristina was sure to leave Joe’s number, “...in case you need it for anything,” she mentioned. Sheepishly, I called. “Hey Joe, we haven’t spoken in person before, but I’m looking for the woodshop and I’m lost,” I told him. “What’s the address again?”
“Y’know, we just moved in here. I don’t even know.”
Worried I’d already portrayed myself of incapable, Joe kindly walked out to end of the driveway to find the number on the mailbox. 19386. We were simply missing a one.
Moments later, I pulled in. Joe still walking back down the driveway to the shop, situated behind a pond.
Hopping out, I grabbed my recorder, camera and notepad. Quickly shaking their hands, I looked around. What I saw was a quaint and brilliant. New and old. Ambitious but calculated. The little shop with so much potential and in seconds I knew why I was here.
Joe and Kristina’s story, the woodworking story, starts at a wedding–theirs. In August of 2014 they tied the knot. With the wedding at the Mayowood Stone Barn in Rochester, they decided their wedding was to be unique.
Joe always had a passion for woodworking from his childhood, watching his dad build an entire picnic set in one evening or sitting on a stool in his neighbor’s garage as he fashioned pieces out of various materials. Kristina was always looking to be creative, taking art classes as a young adult or fueling her love for interior design in drawings and online. It seemed natural for Kristina to think up some designs and for Joe to craft them. They reversed roles as well, working as a team to create their head table and some other small pieces.
The day had come and as beautiful as the couple was, people took notice of the rustic pieces Joe and Kristina had put together. “People were looking at them like ‘that’s really cool!’” says Joe.
As they both laugh after I ask if they were getting orders at their wedding, Kristina mentions, “At that time we were only working with pine wood but soon we started receiving requests for small orders from people here and there and then just decided to jump into some reclaimed wood.”
“We actually started with this table,” she says, as she places both palms down on it’s surface. It’s a table in the corner of the shop Joe thought we should sit at while conversing and it’s beautiful.
“We used wood in my Grandpa’s field and he logged all of these trees himself and planed all of this wood and basically made it into lumber and he kept it stockpiled in his field under a rotting tarp for years and years and years, in case he needed to repair a dock or if something broke at the farm. We built this [table] and then put it out there and started getting a lot of reclaimed wood orders coming in.”
“So we did a few small jobs here and there,” Joe says. “And we thought, ‘well gee do we tackle this? Do we try it and jump into it?’”
As he goes on to tell me how much he enjoys working with reclaimed wood and how difficult yet rewarding it is, he continues to stare at the table. Knocking his knuckle on the surface he explains, “It took some time with this one. It’s all rough cut wood and nothing’s straight. It’s old, warped, cracked, dirty, so you put a lot of time into joining these boards and making everything perfect. It takes a lot of patience.”
But it’s patience, and more so care, that they have.
Only a few short months after the wedding, it seemed clear that it was something they had to pursue.
I finally realize that I’ve been holding on to the table and sliding my hand across it. The grain of the wood, the level of detail and unique differences in each board grabbed me. It’s too inviting not to sit at, to feel, smell and admire.
As I pull my hand back a ways, realizing it may be a bit awkward, I ask about what they do for a living. They both have full time jobs of course, with Beams & Boards running their passions.
Joe explains how he works in Eagan. How he sits in a cube and talks on the phone all day. Kristina works in advertising, working with clients to meet their needs–making Beams & Boards a passion for both of them, one that often operates well after the sun has gone down.
Officially launching as a business in January of 2015, it started like the opening page of the American dream, out of their garage. To make their specialty reclaimed wood, Joe and Kristina would be in need of supply. Craigslist seemed the natural route to go, which Joe scoured closely and getting in touch with local people who owned rundown barns started becoming more of a regular thing.
Whatever scraps that could be found here and there were getting the job done. It felt like a hobby, but an extremely fulfilling one.
Then, they were contacted by a new brewery in the Twin Cities known as Lakes & Legends, and soon the wood supply needed to get a lot bigger. Contracted to do 6 tables, 14 table tops, a bar top, some bathroom countertops and all of the brewery’s shelving meant there was some serious need for space as well.
Joe and Kristina rented out a storage unit in anticipation of the work ahead, knowing it wouldn’t all fit in the garage.
Joe started calling around and found a man who had the supply they needed. Unfortunately for Beams & Boards, it was claimed by someone else. But bound to the passion for reclaimed wood and determination to deliver the project on time, Joe prodded a little, “I asked him, ‘What do I have to do to get it?’” he says. “I was kinda desperate at the time.” Followed by laughter from Kristina.
As Joe looks over to her he says with a smile, “I didn’t tell him I was desperate.”
Joe pressed on. The man told him the wood was to be picked up by the buyer the following day, so Joe decided to call him the next morning asking if the pile of barn wood was gone. Not yet. Again, trying not to sound desperate, Joe asked if he could have it. The man requested he wait another day. As quickly as the sun rose, Joe was thinking about the wood again and called the man. It was still there and Joe could have it. The following day, he loaded up the wood on his trailer and drove off a happy man.
“I don’t think he thought I was serious,” he says.
“So you wore him down?” I ask.
With a laugh, Kristina nods her head.
“But now we have a good supplier and it’s pretty much an endless supply of barn wood.”
Persistence paid off.
The Lakes & Legends project now remains one of their dearest. “They found us on Facebook, when we had like 5 followers, so I don’t understand how,” Kristina mentions but they are grateful that they did.
“Walking into Lakes & Legends, seeing people using our pieces, not just boards stacked on each other and having a pretty good time is great,” says Joe. Pretending he’s there in that moment he jests, “Yeah this table is pretty cool but let’s wipe up the water ring there!” as he mimics doing so on one of the new tables they are working on in the shop. Kristina and I laugh. I ask if they’re part-time bussers there.
There’s actually a lot of it. You wouldn’t realize that they are working full-time jobs and coming home to work another 4 hours or so. Manual work. Hard work. But they love it and everything we converse about has potential for laughter at the end of it.
After the Lakes & Legends project, more and more orders came in. Another brewery requested their services and they finished up a U-shaped bar for Lakeville Brewing using old barn wood from Medford, MN. It’s the story of where the wood comes from that also is of paramount importance to them. “People are interested in the history of the barn,” Kristina mentions and it’s clear that they are too.
With more orders than they can fill now, they are thoroughly stacked against it, but you wouldn’t notice whatsoever. Joe will never tire of meticulously manipulating the reclaimed wood into a uniform shape. Kristina will never stop designing tables, chairs, benches and more to add a unique touch to each project. And the duo will never stop craving the history of each piece.
They are creating a history of their own.
I take a step back and wonder what it’s like to feel like they do. I was lost in finding their workshop but they’ve never been lost in identifying what makes them happy.
The path chose them.