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Good Earth: Master craftsmanship and charitable acts of Buona Terra Woodworks

Buona Terra Woodworks founder Michelle Spadafora had an epiphany just days after Hurricane Matthew struck and knew she had to find a way to give back to the community.

Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Mark Staff


There’s something about the bridge heading onto Hilton Head Island that breeds epiphanies. The slight elevation above the normal sightline, that far-reaching vista across the water as it winds its way west to the May River, south to Daufuskie, east to Harbour Town, sets the mind to touch a higher purpose. It happens to all of us at one point or another.

It happened to Buona Terra Woodworks founder Michelle Spadafora just days after Hurricane Matthew struck. With chainsaws still singing their violent chorus at all hours across Hilton Head, with many wondering how they would ever rebuild, she was hit with a vision.

“I just realized we have to give back to the community. A lot of people are not back to normal. We were very fortunate to just have some minor cleanup,” Spadafora said.

The rough sketch of that epiphany eventually coalesced into a series of “Hurricane Matthew trays” conceived and built by Michelle and her father, Fred. Built partially out of reclaimed wood, which was in plentiful supply after the storm, sales of these trays helped raise funds for Deep Well, with 30 percent of proceeds going to the charity.

“All told, we sold around 850 of them. After that, we decided to go beyond the trays and do 10 percent of the overall business,” Michelle said.

“We were able to give them a check for $5,000 just before Christmas,” Fred added.

And now, they continue to give back with sales of their many fascinating home décor items, all conceived by master craftsman Fred who has been working with wood since he was 13. Occupying the entire lower floor of the Spadaforas’ Spanish Wells home, the Buona Terra “factory” overflows with items: stacks of Matthew trays, shelves lined with beer and wine caddies, rows upon rows of elegant lanterns destined for Skull Creek Boathouse, American flag wall art, and furniture from picnic tables to dog beds.

Beyond that, another room for woodworking where Fred or part-timer Chris Clarke saws, hammers and crafts each piece by hand. And finally, the back room where Michelle and another part-timer Sara Janiszeski finish each piece with paint, stain and a few secret touches (“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” Michelle said with a laugh.)

And around them, lined up along every wall – the wood. Pallets from construction sites that carried the materials to Hilton Head that helped rebuild. Scrap wood from area lumber yards, rich with knots that disqualify them for building but make them ideally suited for Buona Terra’s purposes. And here and there, materials reclaimed from Matthew, old dock planks or homes damaged by the storm.

In this small workshop, a gorgeous new homegrown line of fabulous home décor items was born. You can see the fruits of their labor in these photos, as well as at and retailers around the Lowcountry.