From housing rubble, sprouts green furniture
A Piece of Cleveland goes beyond recycling to upcycle old-growth wood from demolished homes into new objets.
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In the process of recovering the old-growth pine wall studs and flooring, they talked with neighbors who shared stories about the Zarrelli family’s front porch spaghetti parties.Skip to next paragraph
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Today, those wood pieces are joined, butcher-block style and highly polished, in a 20-foot-by-6-foot conference table in the offices of Cleveland-based marketing and Web development firm, Thunder::Tech.
The firm was seeking a table that would suit its large conference room and creative culture. Rather choosing the typical cherry wood “boardroom” table, the firm, which was helping APOC launch its marketing, turned to them for a custom table.
“They were looking for a big custom project and we liked what they had to say about their company,” says Kristin Hall, operations and human resource administrator for Thunder::Tech. “We are big fans of Cleveland, and sustainability is an important value to our company,” she explains.
Working with Taxel, they came up with the design for table created with the Zarrelli family home’s floor joists and with I-beams from the old Tyler Village industrial complex on Cleveland’s East Side.
“I tell clients and visitors that someone walked on our conference table before it became a table,” says Ms. Hull.
Kious believes that when companies like Thunder::Tech – and Tremont neighborhood restaurant Fahrenheit, for which APOC made its dining room tables – commit to having APOC’s custom work in their businesses, “it says something about the values and interests of the company.”
“People are not just looking for objects, but ... for objects that say something about them and who they are,” says Taxel. “As a designer, I’m interested in creating a personal connection with an object.” It’s akin to wearing your grandfather’s watch, or using your great-grandmother’s cookbooks, he says.
“The beauty of what we do is that there’s no single thing people respond to,” explains Taxel. Some respond to contemporary quality or craftsmanship, others to the green aspect or historical preservation. “Any one of those would stand on its own, but our pieces bring all these elements together in a unique way,” he says.
APOC is now forming its own green deconstruction company – Urban Lumberjacks of Cleveland – to find its raw materials.
“There’s no shortage of opportunities for getting materials,” explains Kious. Even older suburbs are contacting APOC about deconstruction. It’s an opportunity built out of the devastation of foreclosures that have hit the Cleveland area. Communities want to remove magnets of blight.
But it’s expensive to pay for the more exacting nature of deconstruction. Kious says the difference – on a typical single-family house – can be as extreme as $18,000 for deconstruction versus $8,000 for demolition.
“We need to learn best practices to bring those costs more in line so that cities can afford deconstruction as an alternative,” Kious says.
APOC creates value for materials not wanted for reuse in the same way. While certain metals and brick can be reused in building, wood can’t because it no longer meets code for building material quality. If the wood were not rescued, it would be headed for the landfill.
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“We’re a town where things get made and they have taken something really sad in the loss of homes and have turned it into something beautiful,” says Ward 13 Councilman Joe Cimperman. To date, he notes, not one brick of the Stanard School deconstruction has gone into the landfill. The site will be transformed into Cleveland’s first zoned urban farm.
The added cost comes only in that it takes longer to deconstruct than to demolish. But Mr. Cimperman believes APOC is ahead of the curve. He believes that the market demand and cost of transporting to landfills necessarily will lead to more opportunities for deconstruction.
While the model for rescuing materials and upcycling them using good design can be replicated anywhere, Taxel suggests that APOC has touched something deeper in customers:“Clevelanders tend to be very proud of where they are from and like to get their hands on a piece of home.