The love and admiration Devika Maharaj has for wood comes from her childhood days. She remembers visiting her father’s sawmill and lumberyard back in Trinidad and Tobago.
“It’s exciting that I get to learn about all different kinds of woods from all different parts of the world,” she said. “Each wood is incredibly unique and has its own characteristics.”
A native of the island, Maharaj — who moved to Orlando 17 years ago — holds two bachelors degrees. The first is in behavioral science from the University of the Southern Caribbean, and the second is in graphic design from Andrews University in Michigan.
In 2014, not too long after having completed her graphic design degree, Maharaj began brainstorming for what would be the name — and logo — of her business.
“I wrote down bunches of names for this business, and I decided to go back to lumber, because it’s something I was already familiar with,” she said. “In Trinidad, working for my dad … we bought stuff from the (United States) such as equipment, parts and things. … So, I would always be the one finding (the contact) and calling.”
Names such as “Wood Hub,” “Doctor Lumber,” “Modern Lumber” and “Sunshine Woods” were written down during the brainstorming phase. However, Maharaj decided to go with “Central Wood Products” because of the myriad options it offered the business.
“Back in school, in business classes, the (teachers) would always say that when naming your business, (you can’t) box yourself in,” she said. “Central Wood Products was not so vague and not so restrictive. It also was kind of an ode to my (parents), because you have to pay homage to your roots in some way, I think.”
At the beginning of the business, back in 2015, Maharaj’s idea was to provide customers with the best lumber pieces and other woodworking-related tools.
“Back then, I knew that even though I was starting such a specific thing that eventually I would branch out,” she said. “Products can mean, in my mind, anything from lumber to wood slabs, epoxy products, wood glue (and) veneer.”
To start, Maharaj’s father sent her a 20-foot container filled with plantation teak wood — which comes from the Tectona Grandis tree. And, because she still did not have a physical home for her business, she used a truck — which was parked at a truck yard owned by her aunt and uncle — for two years.
“They were gracious enough to give me a spot, and I will always be grateful for that, because Florida summers are brutal,” Maharaj said. “When I had to wait for customers or sort and pack orders out, it would be outside in an open yard, pulling stuff from the container. So … I was, thankfully, able to go into their office, cool down, wash my face and then go back out and start working again.”
In 2017, she found her way to Beulah Road in Winter Garden through word of mouth, and since then, Maharaj has been a part of the Winter Garden business community.
She started with a limited variety of lumber pieces: teak, red oak and cherry. Today, the business offers more than 45 species of wood — both domestic and exotic — in different sizes. The pieces come from places such as west coast African nations, Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, Panama, Ecuador and Canada.
“There are still so many woods that I do not have,” she said. “The possibilities are endless, but where I try to focus is on the stuff that is a little bit harder to come by.
“Right now, I’m waiting, because the lumber market is a little bit volatile right now,” Maharaj said. “For example, I was just told white oak prices are going up again.”
Despite price fluctuation, the business has participated in important projects around the area. These include projects supplying wood for the town of Oakland, Margaritaville, Universal Studios and Volcano Bay. However, in Maharaj’s eyes, the most impacting projects she has participated in are family projects or working with do-it-yourselfers.
“The people (who) come in — the homeowners, the hobbyists that allow me to be a part of their lives in a small way — I really appreciate that,” she said. “I’m helping them make a choice for something that they are going to have to live with for a very long time.”
For Maharaj, the idea of making an impact in her clients’ daily lives is a constant motivator, and knowing that some of those lumber pieces could one day become family heirlooms makes her smile.
“There is definitely a story of where (the wood) came from and what it means to that particular nation or region,” she said. “But, there’s also the story that it creates when it goes home with someone because, it goes from being this rough, unfinished thing at my shop to then being made into a dining room table or a coffee table or something for your first baby’s nursery, even a book tree. … It becomes part of the story in other people’s lives. Furniture is something we don’t think about but (it’s) part of our own individual stories — and our homes and how we choose to decorate them.”