Our family business, Nelnamar...

Welcome to Nelnamar, a family owned woodworking business specializing in coffins.

What does Nelnamar mean?
We named Nelnamar after the ladies of the house; Nel(l), Na(ncy), and Mar(y).  Matt, the woodworker, is the sole male in our household.  He plies his craft in a home workshop, while Mary runs the computer end of things and the children create a backdrop of perpetual learning.

Why do we make coffins?

It all started with a conversation with a friend, as most things do.  This friend was working as a hospice nurse and made a comment to Matt, “I tell every woodworker I know that there is a need for affordable wooden coffins.”  Apparently, there were people interested in this type of coffin but no ready avenue for them to obtain one.
 This conversation took place during a time when Matt spent his days making spiral staircases, built in furniture, and similar projects for a custom woodworking business.  The seed, however, was planted.  When it was time to move on, in 2009, we took the plunge into self-employment and began the business journey building coffins.  Little did we know that we were also about to begin the process of learning about death and all the details that emerge after this sacred event.

Who is the Hohlbein family?
Matt hails from Shepherd, Michigan and Mary from Petoskey.  We met in Grand Rapids while woodworking and teaching, but moved to northern Michigan to get away from all the traffic lights.  Finally settling on 10 acres in Bliss, we got right to work building a house and attempting to garden,  joyously adding children to the mix…and then chickens…and then goats! Mary got a job as the local librarian, as Matt got to work designing, constructing, and honing his ideas into reality.  Although we're happy to be away from the traffic lights, we often reminisce about all the wonderful people and ideas we left behind in the city.

We couldn't have picked a better community, though.  Bliss is a place that embraces the idea of generational farms and Saturday night square dances.  You can still buy hay and grain right down the road and buy hardware from families whom the roads were named after.  Working at the local library, Mary has enjoyed listening to first hand accounts of walking to the one room schoolhouse with a potato in-pocket, which was turned into lunch after baking all morning on the schoolhouse woodstove.  Living around such thoughtful, kind people makes it hard to choose work for an extra hour over a neighborly get together, no matter the season or location.

Our community is one big reason why we're so adamant about buying local.  Very simply, buying from my neighbor helps that neighbor to keep living and working here.  We're weary of buying things that are programmed to self destruct within six months.  Granted, there aren't a great number of things to buy here, but we're hoping that exchanging skills catches on enough to see more goods for sale in the future.  To further avoid the long drive to town and its associate fuel usage, we try to grow as much of our food as possible.  Not an easy task and one we enjoy learning our way through, season by season.   Now that we've added the missing link to the growing process, goat and chicken manure, we're enjoying the flavors of an even more 'local' community indeed.

And the children who so focus our attention on the lovely details of life?  How do they round out the family  Other than making thoughtful piles of junk in the yard and riding the male goat, they have the profound ability to start discussions on how to treat others, when (and when not) to sweat the small stuff, and what math is really good for.  The girls also do a fine job making the braids for the Michigan Coffin lid buttons.  These children are why we're working from home, and why we're building what we build.

So this business is very much part of our way of life.  It means that we don't have a fancy storefront, let alone a landscaped driveway, but we have goats who like visitors in that driveway.  It means we don't have cell phones, but we regularly use the internet to connect us with lovely people who are our business partners and our customers.  It means we rely on face-to-face conversations and much appreciated word-of-mouth to reach out to both potential customers and local businesses just as much as we rely on these conversations to figure out when to schedule the next square dance.  And why we look first to our neighbors for the yarn and wood we use in our coffins.  These features keep us who we are and being part of the the whole process helps keep us humble.  Perhaps you'd enjoy doing business with us.