Call him the wood whisperer.
Custom furniture designer Paul Kruger spends his days in Riverside Park, tracking down timber that has washed up from the Hudson River or fallen from trees. When he finds what he’s looking for, he hauls it home in a shopping cart.
“People look at me like I have three heads,” says Kruger.
But when the 33-year-old gets the wood back to his Upper West Side apartment and showroom, and eventually his Brooklyn workshop, he transforms the pieces into pricey tables, shelves, desks and lamps custom-made for clients.
Not before getting a few splinters, though, along with some scolding. On one recent outing — as Kruger was walking slowly along Riverside Park’s bike path to meticulously survey the Hudson’s edge for wood — he was almost run over by bikers, who yelled at him to get out of the way.
But that didn’t deter him.
“Nature was always interesting to me because, growing up, I didn’t have much of it,” says Kruger, who was born and raised on the Upper West Side.
His business, Fallen Industry, is named for the fact that Kruger doesn’t chop down any trees, but instead only uses materials already cut by others or knocked down by nature. After Superstorm Sandy, he had a lot of wood to work with thanks to fallen trees.
He even saves the scraps from his own projects. “I make coasters out of Christmas tree stumps,” Kruger says. “And when we have extra wood left over from a table, typically I will throw in some coasters.”
Kruger started wood-carving as a therapeutic technique when he was going through a “rough patch” several years ago, juggling the hobby with jobs in advertising and bartending. But in 2012, he expanded from sculptures to bookshelves and started to gain a high-end clientele.
“I’m a wood hoarder,” says the sculptor, who has a degree in visual arts and has watched more than 5,000 YouTube videos featuring carpenters at work. To perfect his design skills, Kruger also had to take a few math classes to refresh his memory of fractions, angles and degrees.
His unique, eco-friendly pieces were a selling point for Upper West Side couple Nicole Moore and Jim Fenyohazi.
“We wanted something that spoke to our commitment to the environment and recycling,” Moore says. “To be able to have a table that came from a tree that has fallen and given a second life made sense to us.”
But the couple had dissenting views on their dream table, made from a 12-foot-long section of a tree.
“Nicole was looking for a wider table with a matte finish, I wanted something glossy,” says Fenyohazi of their 8-foot-long walnut wood table that cost a little under $5,000 with wood from New Hampshire.
Kruger played meditator in his clients’ specific requests and even named their table “The Compromise.”
To craft it, the walnut wood was milled, kiln-dried, smoothed, shaped, joined, butterflied and sanded. To give the wood a sparkling bite and protect it from damage, Kruger used two coats of a “secret” glaze.
For Moore and Fenyohazi’s vision of modern meets nature, Kruger used a stainless steel base for the table, made with modern carbon steel.
“It meant a lot to us,” says Moore. “He was able to recycle a beautiful part of nature and bring it into our home.”
But for Kruger, work feels more like he’s living the pages of his favorite book as a teen, “Into the Wild.” Only now he gets to play with chain saws, too.
“It’s exciting for a city kid.”