By Carlie Kollath Wells/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Robert Wilson has been making furniture for the past 25 years. He’s built everything from a wine cellar for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning to media centers to library display cases for the William Faulkner collection at the University of Mississippi.
But the self-employed man is expanding his business into the hospitality industry, a move he hopes will be kinder to his body.
“I’m 53 now,” he said. “I have a lot more aches and pains.”
He leased his University Avenue shop and land to Newk’s and moved his business in 2005 to land he had off Highway 6. He started with a barn he built himself in 1996.
“I thought I’d lose a lot of commissions,” he said. “To my surprise, I’ve been busier than ever.”
He and shop manager Mike Briscoe continue to make custom pieces in Wilson’s woodshop that overlooks a goat pasture. They make tables, chests, beds, media centers, armoires, cabinetry and any other custom-ordered wood pieces.
He’s expanded the whole concept to Willowdale Farm. The 33-acre farm encompasses his furniture shop, his living quarters and a bed and breakfast that doubles as his showroom. He’s also going back to his family’s roots of backyard gardening.
“I raise chickens and grow vegetables the same way people did a hundred years ago,” he said. “Since I moved out here, I’ve found woodworking is part of my life and art.”
He cultivates a peaceful ambiance at the farm and encourages his B&B guests to roam the grounds, visit the goats and check on the okra in the garden. His work has made Willowdale Farm a popular destination with tourists, parents of Ole Miss students and university visitors.
“The response has been phenomenal,” he said. “I had no idea there’d be so much interest.”
As of October, he’s already booking weekends in for next year.
“I’ve got so many friends I’ve made,” he said. “I thought when I started, football season would be the only draw.”
The B&B is a part of his retirement plan, but the farm has contributed to his personal satisfaction as well.
“I get to have a connection to the dirt,” he said. “I see the changing of seasons. I’ve realized that is going to be a part of my life as much as woodworking. … This place has become a part of my art and the way I express myself.”
He’s also focusing on becoming self-sufficient. He raises chickens and goats and has a fully stocked kitchen garden. He has multiple compost piles he uses to amend his raised beds.
He also is handy when it comes to building projects. He’s building a small cabin on his land for his mother to stay in when she needs an extra helping hand.
“When I moved out here, if I’d known how much work it was going to be, I’d have run from it,” he said. “It runs me ragged sometimes, but I’m not a good delegator. I seem to want to have my hand in everything.”
And he has more projects in the works. He’d like to add an outdoor fireplace with seating where guests can enjoy the night sky.
“I truly enjoy people being here and enjoying it,” he said. “I enjoy seeing people walking around, knowing they’re enjoying a little peace for while.”