Now that the weather is getting colder and the holidays are starting to creep up on everybody, the general contracting work has slowed down considerably. It happens every year, regardless of whether you're talking about a $1M contractor or a $100M contractor. Cold weather + holidays = nobody wants to do a whole lot of building or spending money on anything (aside from turkeys and presents) until January 1.
In my younger days I would get really nervous this time of year, and fear not having made enough money during the summer for everybody to get comfortably through the winter. Luckily, as the furniture portion of the operation has grown over the past few years, winter time has become furniture-building time. It's also become material acquisition time; given that maybe 60-70% of the furniture business involves the use of reclaimed materials, sometimes hunting for the right stuff for a given project or client can be an arduous process. During the spring/summer, when everything moves a mile a minute and there almost always seems to be more ongoing projects than we have time to deal with, carving out time to track down just the right barn wood, or just the right vintage whatever, or something with just the right patina...well, it's almost impossible. But not in the fall.
I recently stumbled across a pile of old 5-panel doors waiting to be taken the landfill, and because I may or may not have a minor addiction to squeezing landfill-bound doors into my car and stockpiling them at my shop for future use, I grabbed them. One of the doors had cracking white paint that I wanted to save and use as the surface for something, and the stiles and rails from that door became a small sofa table.
Sometimes when working with old doors, I'll go out of my way to avoid using the "bad" parts - the lockset mortise, the hing mortises, the spots where rails and stiles were held together with tenons or dowels, etc. - but on this table, because I needed just about very square inch of usable material I could harvest, I embraced the "imperfections" and ran with them. As a result, this table doesn't hide any of the signs that at one time, it had been something else. The cracking white paint is prominently displayed, as are the chunks taken out of it over the years. The splits in the wood, where screws from who knows what had allowed water to infiltrate the door, were left as is. The spots on what became the table legs where hand-cut mortises are clearly visible, I left them open and exposed rather than patching over them. And because I needed thicker material for the legs than what the door could provide without some improvisation on my part, I glued pieces of door lumber together to achieve the required thickness.
I don't care that on a couple of the legs, the coloring of the pine in the glued-together pieces is noticeably different. I don't care about the holes, or the cracks, or really any of the "imperfections". This particular table is all about highlighting fact that this old door, she'd served her purpose for many, many years and yet, maybe as something else, she still has a few good years left. So...no reason to hide the age, or the evidence of being used previously as something else. The result is a look not everybody will appreciate, but it's a look that'd be awfully hard to replicate with new material, and way, way less interesting.
We recently spent 3 days on a 30-gallon commercial paint job, but the thing that had everybody talking was this little reclaimed barn wood wall we knocked out in an hour. I'll take an hour of splinters and twisted wood over 30 hours on scaffolding with a paint brush in my hand any day of the week.
By day, I work with a crew of guys in the world of general contracting. In the past few months we've tackled a high-end gut kitchen renovation, a bunch of tile work, the complete renovation of a 4-family building, and a variety of projects at a couple upscale west county restaurants. We've been busy.
Once you've set - as an example - kitchen cabinets enough times, it becomes a pretty pedestrian endeavor. There's still satisfaction to be found in a job well done, but ultimately, every now and then I find myself in need of a bigger challenge, and those are the times that I head into the shop and build furniture, or home decor style knick-knacks.
Sometimes the challenge in those projects stems from being solely responsible for the entire life cycle of the project: design, construction, finishing. Sometimes the challenge in those projects stems from using reclaimed materials, which are almost always imperfect (and more times than not pretty beat up), and finding a way to clean up the material enough to use it while not ridding the material of all its character. Sometimes the challenge in those projects stems from simply constructing something where 16ths and 32nds and 64ths of an inch can make the difference between something that looks really good, and something that looks like it was slapped together by a drunk giraffe.
Needless to say, over the past few years, some of the things I've built have started to take up a lot of space. I don't spend a lot of time trying to sell the things I sometimes randomly build, mostly because I enjoy the construction aspect of the projects, and once one thing is finished, I dig right into the next one. The sales part - pictures and text and dealing with things like Etsy and shipping and whatnot - isn't something I really enjoy, so...I recently decided to go about trying to outsource the selling of some of the things I make.
As such, I recently partnered with Urban Matter, a home accessories & gift boutique located in south St. Louis. I contacted them, went in for a visit, brought along a variety of small items I've built over the years, and just like that...they bought a bunch of stuff from me. The items they bought aren't super exciting or in any kind of large scale or quantity, but the ladies that run the place seem to "get" the reclaimed stuff. Truth be told, the stuff they seemed to like the most are things that I typically build, or "make", with the scraps that are leftover from bigger projects; if I tear apart an old door, cut away all the crap and get down to bare pine that I use for something like a sofa table or cabinet, all the cut-offs and scraps then become...picture frames, business card holders, wall/"folk art", crates...whatever I can come up with based on the materials I have. Otherwise...I'd be making 2 dozen trips to the dumpster every week, or the shop would be inundated with all shapes and sizes of material, neither of which I'm real excited about.
All three of those came from old doors (and much larger projects), and the patina was such that I couldn't bring myself to throw away the scraps. These little business card holders aren't pricey or fancy but they look kinda cool and really, they're just another outlet to try to grow the business and get more products on more shelves.
The picture frames seem to be halfway popular as well, so the next few weeks will be busy trying to cram in some shop time when we're not busy with upcoming work at The Tavern and Namaste, and I think I'll have to bite the bullet and get the Etsy store up and running again...