Fernweh. The German word—often unsatisfactorily translated as “a longing for far-off places”—describes a concept that has no easy English equivalent.
“A lot of people translate it as ‘wanderlust,’ but it’s more the idea of being homesick for somewhere you’ve never been. I love that idea,” says Justin Nelson, who laughingly admits he discovered the concept in a Buzzfeed article. “Everyone’s naming their woodshops Noun and Noun, or Adjective and Noun. I liked the idea of having just one word.”
For the past three years, Nelson’s Bend woodworking studio Fernweh has sawn, shaved, and formed walnut and white ash into beautifully ergonomic home décor and furniture. (Prices range from $26 coat hooks and candleholders to the $4,200 Sling Chair, pictured above.) Rigid lines become organic, fluid shapes, and his smoothly sanded hardwoods begin to look skin-soft. Self-taught and inspired by legendary California woodworker Sam Maloof, Nelson describes his style as “Danish modern” with this caveat: “It’s always a scary thing to say because people have ideas about what that means.”
An Indiana native, Nelson arrived in Bend as a result of his own fernweh. After a business degree at Purdue, a US Marine Corps tour in Afghanistan, he and his wife (an air force vet, nurse practitioner, and Oregon native) felt a longing for somewhere permanent where they could make a home and put their itinerant military existence to rest. In Bend, the necessities of home improvement converged with a steadily growing passion for woodworking.
“I had always been intrigued by hardwoods, but I thought I was going to be forced to do the whole barn wood, rustic thing just to be able to make a living,” he says about his decision to go into business. “I had an adviser call me out on it. I’m not really passionate about rustic stuff, but I’ve always loved hardwoods, walnut especially. ... If I’m not doing what I’m passionate about, it’s not worth it.”