I love the warmth, colors, depth, dimensionality and feel of wood. I adore elegantly crafted, hand-made furniture and want to support the artisans who make it, especially now, when so many are struggling to make ends meet.
Compared to say, Japan, where a master artisan can be awarded support and called a “living national treasure“, we do a rather haphazard job of supporting artisans in this country.
I recently discovered a number of innovative furniture makers who are creating “reclaimed wood furniture” – new furniture that has been made from wood that has been recycled from old barns, bridges, buildings and even wine barrels. Now I no longer need to feel guilty about encouraging clients to buy wood furniture.
This post is devoted to the many good ends that come from reclaimed wood furniture: feeding the artists, enjoying beautiful things that will last for years to come, giving new life to old resources, and ensuring that countless trees can continue growing and turning carbon dioxide into oxygen.
First and Foremost, It’s Beautiful
Yes, I did claim that reclaimed wood furniture is beautiful. The photos prove it.
It’s true that some reclaimed wood furniture runs toward shabby chic, featuring old peeling paint and even commercial logos. For example, you can see chairs made from surfboards by Brazil’s Zanini de Zanine Caldas on the Treehugger website, but you won’t see them here. That’s too post-modern for my taste, and one of the advantages of writing a blog is that I get to feature what I want.
From the furniture I’m featuring here, you will see that my tastes run toward clean lines, both contemporary and traditional. The photos will also show you that there’s no way you would know that wood has been reused except for Toussaint spilling the beans.
A case in point is the work of Greentea Design of Toronto, Canada. I have yen for Japanese furniture, and also for some of the less ornate Chinese styles. As I write this, I’m sitting at an Asian-style table that my stepfather, Bill Devine, handcrafted to my special order more than twenty years ago. Bill always felt bad about using the stunning flame mahogany that is framed in the table’s center by a band of darker wood. The mahogany came from forests that were starting to disappear even when he made the table. This worried him and he eventually stopped buying mahogany.
But Greentea, which makes similarly designed two-toned pieces, like the media chest shown above, has solved that problem. I incorporated some Greentea pieces into a project last fall, simply because the style was perfect. Until I began researching this week’s post, I did not realize that all of Greentea’s furniture is made from wood that has been reclaimed from Korean barns. You need to pay attention to the details on the Greentea website to discover that the “green” in their name is there for environmental as well as cultural reasons.
Michael Yonke of Santa Monica, whose work is featured at the top of this blog, creates furniture and art from wood, metal and glass. Yonke reclaims local “deconstruction materials” and uses them to create furniture, doors, cabinets and trim. He also writes a blog on “upcycling”. That term was coined by the authors of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, William McDonough and Michael Braungart. They defined it as “the practice of taking something that is disposable and transforming it into something of greater use and value.”
Yonke says that “Upcycling is achieved by repurposing the materials into objects with higher end-use value that will endure and inspire for centuries…” Yonke’s work is available for purchase at upcycler.etsy.com
From Redwoods and Wine Barrels
Whit McLeod, whose shop is in Arcata among the redwoods of Northern California, began his career as a wildlife biologist. His reverence for nature is reflected in his award-winning Arts and Crafts furniture. McLeod’s company salvages redwood from demolition sites, wine or water tanks, or salvaged logs, and he also reclaims quarter-sawn white oak from old wine barrels. In 1991, he dismantled the tanks at the Italian Swiss Colony Winery in Asti, California. Founded in 1883, Asti is a California Historical Landmark. Although considerable expertise and effort must go into the salvage process, McLeod points out that using this old wood has definite advantages:
Woodworkers know that the best quality wood comes from old-growth trees. Old-growth timber is harder, denser, and more stable than wood from young trees. It also tends to have fewer knots and structural defects. However, old-growth timber usually comes with the high price of destroying ancient forests.
Beer Barrels and Slalom Gates
If you happen to live closer to the right coast than the left, I have found a wonderful furniture maker named Doug Clarner in Vermont. Clarner’s style is rooted in the Shaker tradition, but also incorporates some Arts and Crafts and Japanese elements. Agreeing with what McLeod has to say about the benefits of old-growth wood, Clarner says:
…In addition to the benefits of added strength and durability, the coloring and rich texture of well-worn reclaimed wood can also be highly desirable. Aged wood has deep, beautiful colors and a rich patina that can not be imititated – these qualities can only be bestowed by time.
Clarner has reclaimed old-growth cypress and redwood from the vats of the defunct Rheingold Beer Factory in Brooklyn. He even has created a Rapid Gate Ski Chair made from recycled gates from slalom courses!
Upcycling Old Barns in
Moving a bit down the map of the east coast, you will find another fine maker of reclaimed wood furniture, Ken Salem. Ken was a financial advisor in Boston for 15 years. He returned to his family business after his father fell ill, and subsequently decided to give up Wall Street to hand-craft beautiful furniture. His company is Salem Board and Beam.
Ken reclaims much of his wood from old barns, which were often made of American chestnut. He also salvages cherry, black American walnut and spalted maple trees that are slated for removal, giving storm-downed and damaged hardwoods new life. His style also grows out of the Arts and Crafts movement and the Shaker tradition.
Sickly Seattle Trees Find New Life
The modernists among my readers may be interested in furniture made by Urban Hardwoods in Seattle “from trees that would have been discarded.”
According to Urban Hardwood’s website, each piece of furniture is made “from massive slabs of Pacific madrone, sycamore, walnut, elm, and other trees that spent their lifetimes in Seattle. Each piece unique, each with a story to tell.”
In 2008, Sustainable Industries Magazine named Urban Hardwoods to a list of the top ten companies providing green building products in honor of their work in transforming diseased trees into beautiful furniture. The company has showrooms in both Seattle and San Francisco.
The Beauty of Flaws
I’m indebted to the Inhabitat weblog for telling me about self-taught woodworker Andrea Joyau of Brooklyn, who doesn’t have a website. Joyau’s clean-lined style draws interest from the rustic nature of the reclaimed hardwood that he uses in making his furniture.
Like many of Urban Hardwood’s pieces, Joyau’s work consciously features knots and imperfections as focal points in many pieces. His shop is at 20 Van Dam Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; his phone number is (718) 963-2616.
Shop Scraps in Brooklyn and Thailand
Uhuru Designs of Brooklyn is being featured in the AD Home Design Show in New York City this week, as well as on the 3rings architectural products blog, where Jenny Rector has written a wonderful post about them.
Uhuru, founded in 2004 by Bill Hilgendorf and Jason Horvath, practices upcycling by using materials that have been “reclaimed, recycled, repurposed, reused, or otherwise rejected from their original function.” Uhuru has collected scraps from local workshops – scraps that would usually destined for the dump – and turned them into remarkable tables. The Striper Table, shown here, is one example of this construction. Another lovely example, the Stoolen table (shown below beside the poem), is a massive round table that is flattened on top, but has a topography of uneven wood ends on the flipside.
Uhuru is also using heart pine that comes from buildings being torn down in New York City. Of their work, Hilgendorf and Horvath write, “We strongly agree with the Shaker assertion that ‘beauty rests on utility’. We strive to make furniture and products that are beautiful in their simplicity with an acute awareness of materials and craft… For us, sustainability is about choosing materials with the least amount of environmental impact, whether it is what they are made of, how they are produced, or where they come from, and using them in a way where little to no waste is created.”
I would like to close this post with a nod to Thai architect and product designer Singh Intrachooto. Using wood from reclaimed trees that have been uprooted to build roads or left over from his architectural projects, Intrachooto’s company, Osisu Design, has created collections called Lini, Lami and Tilee. I learned about Intrachooto’s work on the Treehugger website, where the writer wondered “how much glue was used to laminate all those off cuts together.”
Intrachooto emailed them and answered that question:
You are correct that the technique used to construct these furniture requires glue. We use a water-based glue which is nontoxic in its production and does not release VOC. The finishes we use are either Livos oil or teak oil, depending on the clients. We do not use lacquer or other toxic paints. We want to eliminate all the toxic substances not only for environmental reasons, but also for the longevity of our human resource. The builders who make this furniture are master builders, very skilled, highly patient and understanding of the environmental concerns; they are irreplaceable. They must be well taken care of. They have to be healthy if we are to survive; everything we use must not hurt them nor our customers. Else we all are going to loose the battle to save the environment.
Gee, I wish I had said that! It’s far more eloquent than the “save the trees and feed the artists” coda I was going to write. So I’ll close by saying “amen to that.”
Links for Reclaimed Wood Furniture
- Carlos Motta’s furniture on Treehugger.com
- Green Tea furniture’s website
- Hugo Franka’s furniture on Treehugger.com
- John Houshmand’s furniture on Inhabitat
- Micheal Yonke’s blog on “upcycling”
- Osisu’s furniture on Treehugger.com
- Salem Board & Beam, Doug Clarner
- Uhuru Design
- Urban Hardwoods
- Whit McLeod Furniture
- Wooden Duck Reclaimed Furniture store, Oakland, CA
Visit Nicolette’s Comfort and Joy Interior Design website
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