POUND RIDGE, N.Y. – Pound Ridge’s Niels Wittus was all set to start apprenticing at one of Copenhagen’s top-end restaurants when he graduated from high school, but then he took a trip to America – and simply stayed.
“My father was in the furniture business in Denmark and he had lots of American clients,” Wittus said. “Whenever I met them, I was impressed by the ‘can-do’ attitude of Americans. It’s a level of confidence, a boldness, but in a nice way. Scandinavians are more reserved.”
After a few years of city living, Wittus started house-hunting, was shown a barn in Pound Ridge, and has been here ever since. That was 35 years ago.
Although Wittus is still an enthusiastic cook, he never pursued the profession. Instead, he started importing Danish wood-burning stoves to the American market. “I’ve always been interested in levels of design, as a hobby, and I saw a market,” he explained. “For a while, we operated out of our house. We opened the shop in Scotts Corners about 20 years ago.”
These days, Wittus specializes in all sorts of “fire and flame products in unique contemporary design. It’s a niche market,” he said. He describes his products as “‘warm furniture’ for people who want a particular style and good design.”
Many of his products are imported from European countries, including the Czech Republic, Italy, Germany and Scandinavia. Among them are cooking stoves, wood-burning stoves, pellet stoves, gas stoves, outdoor grills and accessories.
Some of the products have to be specially adapted to suit the regulations of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Their standards are tougher than Europe’s,” Wittus said. “For example, they have restrictions on excess wood smoke.”
“The fire culture is much more ingrained in Europe than it is here,” Wittus continued. “Europeans can’t understand why many Americans only use their fireplaces a few times a year, maybe Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“But you can sit in front of your outdoor fireplace with a glass of wine and some friends and when you light it up, it changes everything. It’s like going back to the Stone Age, when fire was important for survival.”