Wood artisans recycle and repurpose old materials

  • By Kim Cook Associated Press
  • Tuesday, July 3, 2012 5:25pm
  • Life

Industrial designer Robert Hendrick was on a tech career track out of college until two things happened that changed his trajectory.

First, he bought a company that maintains and rebuilds railroad tracks. Then he started spending Saturdays building stuff with his father, Jim.

“I’d always been fascinated by trains and loved the history of how they were so instrumental in the industrialization of America,” said Hendrick, of Nashville. “Dad was a construction exec, and the carpentry shop was a weekend diversion. He was always salvaging some interesting artifact from a building that was being torn down. When I saw some of the scrap rails, I realized there might be some beautiful things we could make with them.”

The two launched Rail Yard Studios in 2010. Using century-old railroad steel and hardwood timber, they make one-of-a-kind chairs, desks, tables and beds. Some of the rails date back as far as 1898. Each piece is numbered using a salvaged date nail that’s been scavenged from the tracks themselves.

Many wood furniture artisans are interested, as the Hendricks are, in honoring the provenance of their material, whether it’s repurposed, recycled or just reimagined as something that can be used in the home.

That creative respect makes for some beautiful and intriguing pieces.

Naomi Neilson Howard, founder of the company Native Trails in San Luis Obispo, Calif., uses staves and barrels from nearby wineries to make bathroom vanities for her Vintner’s Collection. Her Cabernet model has a deep, warm patina, the result of the oak soaking in red wine for several years. The pieces have an Old World, weathered quality.

This spring, Howard added the Renewal series to her line, a departure from the more rustic pieces. She molds tightly grained, compressed bamboo into contemporary vanities such as the Halcyon, a curvy, wall-mounted piece fashioned from two proprietary varietals, caramel bamboo and the darker woven strand bamboo.

Fred Strawser and David Smith have an eponymous Brooklyn shop selling refurbished and repurposed furnishings whose components started life back in Rust Belt factories. With its mix of heartland craftsmanship and modern high style, the shop has attracted the attention of design enthusiasts as far away as Japan.

For examples, a medical cart from late 19th-century Toledo, Ohio, gets a walnut top that used to be a leather worker’s work surface, and is ready for action as a hip new desk or console. Industrial-chic side tables are made of thick, lustrously finished slabs of reclaimed wood with wrought-iron, hanging machinist’s baskets instead of shelves.

Sarah Reiss is a Dallas-based artist, furniture designer and writer, who found her inner craftsman when buying a fixer-upper. She invested in a jigsaw and some other equipment and built a wall out of interesting reclaimed lengths of wood. The striking result — a colorful, textural geometric piece of art — caught the attention of design bloggers, and her business took off.

“Piecing a wall together is like a long-form improvisation with a permanent outcome. I think that’s pretty cool,” she said.

Reiss will custom design a wall for you using locally sourced woods such as flooring from old bowling alleys or gymnasiums; shiplap; and barn siding. If you want something smaller, she makes chevron-patterned tables.

Sourcebook

www.railyardstudios.com

www.nativetrails.net

www.etsy.com/shop/randrdesignworks (Sarah Reiss)

www.strawserandsmith.com

More in Life

Get tricked out in your Halloween best

Thrift stores can dress up you and your ghoul-friends.

How to find owls in Washington

Searching for owls in Discovery Park with wildlife photographer Paul Bannick.

Music in the mountains: ‘It’s a weather-dependant hobby’

Anastasia Allison of the Musical Mountaineers reflects on making music at the summits.

Monroe man repurposes scrap into weird, wacky, wondrous yard art.

“I hate to see stuff that’s cool get thrown away,” says Colin Nolan.

Jaw fragment, bloody shirt and stranger things in Everett

The Everett Public Library’s Northwest Room is a treasure trove of oddities.

Acura adds A-Spec model to superb handling TLX in 2018

In an already comfortable and refined interior for all TLX models, the A-Spec embellishes all of it.

Hundreds of ways to pamper your home and yourself

Find fancy fridges to sparkling jewelry under one roof at home and gift shows in Everett.

Politics on display as Letterman receives Mark Twain Prize

Speakers Sunday night included comedians John Mulaney, Amy Schumer and Jimmie Walker.

Most Read