Media

The Macdonald Notebook

September 22, 2021

TheMacdonaldNotebook.ca - Published Sept. 25th, 2021 (The MacDonald Notebook is a weekend news online website, based in Halifax and Covering Business, Inside Politics and Cultural Affairs across Nova Scotia)

Add Another Job Title For Cape Breton’s Neal Livingston

Mabou-Margaree River resident and business person Neal Livingston is no stranger to The Notebook readership.

Last winter, I featured his Black River Maple Syrup, and last summer featured his son Geoff’s decision to buy a home in Cape Breton, and leave behind his life in Montreal.

There are web links to those two stories at the end of this article.

Livingston has been a filmmaker, in addition to producing maple syrup, and he co-owns three windmills under Black River Wind Ltd, with two windmills in Inverness County and one windmill in Pictou County, which sells electricity to NS Power.

Over the pandemic, Livingston took on a new job title: custom builder of desks and coffee tables, which utilize his expansive forestry tract.

Custom Made Dining Tables & Coffee Tables: Neal Livingston's Latest Business Expansion

By Andrew MacDonald

1.jpg

Neal Livingston undertook a business expansion during COVID and has made custom dining room and coffee tables. He manufactured 41 dining tables, desks and 23 coffee tables - limited editions. 

As a pandemic project, he made custom furniture. “The whole idea of who is going to be interested in the market for a table is going to be very interesting. I researched it a bit. I am somebody who put my parent’s dining room table in my house - because my parents are gone”. The furniture has high-end prices, but then again the desks and coffee tables are custom made. Had he decided to sell the furnishings in Toronto & Manhattan, he could have commanded a premium price. "I am retailing the coffee tables for $1,100.00 to 2,400.00 and the dining tables and desk for $1,500.00 up to $14,000.00 on his sophisticated website. A link to the website is at the end of this article. His furnishings company is called Forest Table. On his website, Livingston states: “It's my pleasure to present these beautiful and unique hardwood tables for sale: 41 dining tables and desks, and 23 coffee tables”. The project was undertaken last winter, and the lumber came from his tract of land, using his own forest. He manufactured 41 dining tables, desks and 23 coffee tables. “I will be making more limited editions of tables” going forward, he says.

2.jpg

Cape Breton businessman Neal Livingston has expanded his business lines into producing custom-made dining room and coffee tables.  (Neil Livingston image) 

“The idea behind building the tables had existed in my mind for years, that I would one day build beautiful dining and boardroom tables from hardwood lumber I had milled from the forest on my property. When Covid arrived in 2020, I decided to do the Forest Table project”, he adds on his website. He is hoping to also sell not only to consumers in this country, but he is also eyeing the American market. The furnishings are shipped to customers in two boxes, one containing the table and another package with the legs which a buyer can easily screw on. Livingston has a friend who is a recently retired CAO of a furniture retailer in NYC. She advised that a significant amount of furniture sales are now online.

He is also offering free shipping.

“I wanted to do this for many years because I have been putting away hardwood from my forest, in some ways it is a COVID project, because all of us had more time on our hand, except you as a journalist. It was always something I intended to do and I said, ‘this is the time’”. Doing internet research he has found out that “there is nobody who is selling tables made from their own woodlot in North America”, says Livingston. He talked to a marketing guru in Halifax who advised Livington the prices "reflect your unique work, and that you are a known artist and filmmaker". Despite making these tables with his woodworking skills, he does not see himself as a furniture manufacturer. “I am more of an artist doing a limited edition (of tables), just as an artist would produce an edition of work”. “There are a million good carpenters in North America, who can build you really good furniture, but there seems to be no one in the space of doing forest to table, and that drove me to do this project”, explains Livingston.

“From a design perspective, I designed these tables the same way I would produce a piece of artwork, moving pieces of wood around, trying to figure out the best combinations of this beautiful wood”, and using sustainability methods without using chemicals, he adds. The wood he used is maple, yellow and white birch. “They were selection cut over a period of years, of different sizes in the range of 25-30 trees”. He says. “This year the wood I am using is from Hurricane Dorian, big trees came down and I was able to get it out of the forest. The stuff we get out of the forest this year is from a big ice storm last spring in the Mabou Highlands. The trees were cut over a 15-year period, including removing bark beetles, and Livingston cut some of the trees himself, with two friends, using chain saws.

 

The Forest to Table company’s website, as I noted above, is sophisticated (web link at bottom of the article), and the website designer is a NSCAD University student, an immigrant, Nachiketa Katkar. The master of design student arrived at NSCAD from India last January. “He was referred to me and now he has become a friend of ours. He came up to Cape Breton last summer for the first time and we toured around with him”, Livingston tells The Notebook. “He is more of a designer than the backend side (of a website)”.

3.jpg

During the pandemic, Margaree businessman Neal Livingston started a limited edition desks and coffee table business called Forest Table.

Livingston does not retail to any furnishing stores in Halifax but last spring reached out to interior designers in the city.

“I am not in the furniture business in a classic way, this is part of my forestry operation”. He sells selling lumber in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick does not make any money. Prices are basically the same for woodlot owners in Nova Scotia as they were 40 years ago.

“If I was in Ontario or Quebec, I could sell five or six logs at the roadside and get paid a lot of money for them. Here in NS and NB he says selling lumber does not generate a lot of money and you need to ship it by a full tractor-trailer load.“If you don’t like to clear cut the prices are what they were 40-years ago. This project is another iteration to use my forest and businessperson skills and I have been trying to set it up to make good value from my forest”.

4.jpg

Neal Livingston monitoring the state of the 30 km of maple syrup lines via an android smart phone with the “smartrek" app for maple syrup

In 2003, he took 98 cords out of the woods “and the contractor sent me a bill for a couple of hundred bucks after he sold the wood. In 2009, I took 220 cords out of my woods and with the grant I broke even”, he says. Livingston bought his Mabou forest back in the 1970s when he immigrated to Cape Breton from a life in Hamilton. “I first came to Cape Breton in 1972 and moved here by 1975 and bought my 350-acre property in 1976". He is on the Margaree River, and lives near Glenora Distillery, on the outskirts of Inverness.

 

“I have a long career as an award-winning documentary filmmaker, photographer, and visual artist. In wood, I have produced a series of pieces from trees called TREE ART. I am a volunteer community activist for the environment and a renewable energy developer”, reads his website bio.

 

“Black River Maple Products is a commercial maple syrup operation in part of my forest since 1985. Our syrup has a great customer loyalty, and is highly regarded and even awarded”, states his bio.

5.jpg

Cape Breton Maple Syrup ready for the market.

While the furnishings were mostly built by Livingston, he did rely “on an incredible woodshop in Halifax run by Steve LeBlanc, his company is Expressions of Wood, and he is very well known. I did not have the equipment to sand the tables properly, and his shop took five days in February to sand the wood. He was amazing”, adds Livingston.

Now, he plans to acquire more woodworking tools for next winter’s table-making project, so it can be all designed and built in-house, truly from forest to table manufacturing.

Because he also has hydro and windmill businesses last year for his 65th birthday, Livingston bought an electric vehicle.

“I almost bought a Hyundai Kona EV - it’s a great EV, but where I live in the Mabou Highlands it’s a real snow belt, so I need a 4 wheel drive car. The only choice in 2020 was the Tesla Y, and it’s a great car, and has no issues so far. A year later, and 25,000 km later I realize that I would never go back to a gas car."

“I make a living from selling electricity”.

Click here to go to the website for Neal Livingston's Forest Tables website.

The website is found at this URL: www.foresttable.ca



--

TheMacdonaldNotebook.ca

Halifax, Nova Scotia

A Business, Political & Cultural Read

We publish on Saturdays, & Sundays