When Jen Homcy looks at an overgrown mango tree or a damaged monkeypod, she doesn’t see an eyesore or firewood, she sees possibilities.
Homcy is the founder and owner of Foundwood, a boutique woodworking company where she creates distinctive cutting boards, small bowls and serving trays. Her philosophy is in the company name: Homcy lets the lumber come to her. Each Foundwood piece is made from Oahu hardwoods that were cut down for invasive tree removal, urban development or because they were dead or damaged.
It’s an ideology that was sparked by Homcy’s late father, Dave Homcy. After retiring, he transformed the family’s garage in North Palm Beach, Florida, into a woodshop. He and Homcy would scour the nearby beaches and neighborhoods looking for driftwood, timber and discarded furniture. He turned their “found wood” into frames, cutting boards and even hope chests, branding each piece with an “H” for Homcy. Young Homcy spent her afternoons sweeping the garage and learning how to sand wood, shape boards and place screws.
In 2001, after working for years as a marine biologist, Homcy moved to Oahu and settled in Haleiwa—she fell for the North Shore country town while visiting her brother, surf photographer Dave Homcy Jr.—becoming a science teacher at Kapolei Middle School. But her woodworking memories with her father loomed large. She found herself spending her free time in the school’s woodshop, making frames and boards. Friends suggested she sell them at the Hale‘iwa Farmers Market. After quickly selling out, Homcy knew she was on the cusp of a career change. She established Foundwood in 2013, incorporating a small “J” into her father’s signature “H” on her woodwork. “Foundwood is also about preventing woods from being wasted and providing something that’s high quality,” she says. “We want to create forever pieces.”
Neatly stacked slabs of lumber, covered with tarps, surround Homcy’s house, where she works with her partner, Tai Tolbert, who does sales and marketing for Foundwood. “All wood has value,” says Homcy, who works with about 20 different types of woods, such as mango, monkeypod, kamani, milo, narra and Cuban mahogany.
Each piece has a story behind it, adds Tolbert, who works with Homcy in obtaining salvaged lumber and helps sell her work at O‘ahu’s farmers markets. “We know where each tree, each slab comes from,” he says. “We have a connection with it, and you never know the connection other people will have [to the wood]. It’s a powerful thing.”
Foundwood pieces have been handcrafted from felled trees across Oahu, including the University of Hawaii campus and a citrus farm on Oahu’s leeward coast, not to mention from the homes and businesses of several farmers market patrons. Foundwood has also partnered with Waimea Valley, a nonprofit that manages 1,875 acres on the North Shore, to use wood from its ongoing project to remove invasive trees and replant the area with native species.
From her backyard, Homcy transfers the lumber to her woodshop just outside of the Waialua Sugar Mill, a couple of miles from her home. There, she cuts, sands and oils the wood slabs into unique cutting boards, small bowls, candleholders, frames and even custom furniture. Even the scraps get used. Tolbert uses the wood chips in his grill and the two of them put the planer shavings in their garden for mulch.
Cutting boards are the most popular. Homcy crafts about 200 each month, which range from palm-size—perfect for taking home to family and friends in a carry-on—and heart-shape pieces to paddle-style cutting boards and large carving boards.
“These are functional pieces of art,” Tolbert says. Homcy says with proper care—washing with soap and water, and rubbing mineral oil on it if it’s dry—a Foundwood board will last forever.
She picks up a large paddle-style cutting board, one of seven boards hanging in her kitchen. Homcy’s father made it for her before she left for college 25 years ago. “It’s Costa Rican hardwood that he smuggled out of the country,” she says with a laugh. The board is smooth and worn, but in solid shape. “My philosophy is the same [as my dad’s]. We’re turning waste into something of value.”
Where to Find Foundwood
On Oahu: Haleiwa Farmers Market, Kakaako Farmers Market, Kailua Farmers Market, The Watershed at Turtle Bay Resort, Na Mea Native Books, Monkeypod Kitchen, Nohea Gallery, Owens & Co. and Number 808. On Kauai: Ola Gallery, Halalea Gallery and Kiko. On Maui: Driftwood. • foundwoodworking.com