Scope your favourite coffee shop or microbrewery or your hipster bud’s Main Street loft, and you’ll find that, when it comes to interiors, reclaimed wood has long been a thing.
But the organic material doesn’t just look great: it’s also an ingenious way to prevent perfectly good lumber from rotting away in landfills.
That’s the thinking behind the Wood Shop, a Vancouver-based startup that sees reclaimed timber as more of a lifestyle than a trend. Born out of Groundswell Grassroots Economic Alternatives’ social-venture program in 2013, the company was founded by Chris Nichols, a former construction worker who was stunned by the amount of wood being trashed in the industry.
“That really sort of spurred him to start thinking about how much wood waste is really being produced in Vancouver, what’s being done with it, and how he could start a conversation about wood waste and what he could make out of it,” Jessica Valentine, co-owner of and builder at the Wood Shop, tells the Straight by phone.
Fastforward three years and Nichols’s humble quest has evolved into a full-fledged business with four employees and a loyal clientele of interior designers, businesspeople, and homeowners.
Working with a mattress-recycling company, the Strathcona Business Improvement Association, and local arborists and construction workers, the Wood Shop upcycles discarded maple, fir, cedar, and more into furnishings and décor items that range from the warm and rustic to the polished and high-end.
Stripped-down mattress frames are broken down and fashioned into storage-equipped bed frames, bookshelves, and growler carriers; cast-off pallets are repurposed as stylish record crates and roomy dining tables; and century-old timber from residential tear-downs and renovations is resurrected as benches, trunks, and serving platters.
Many of the items may be customized and the Wood Shop also produces commissioned pieces for those seeking specialty fittings without compromising their commitment to green.
“People should be able to have a choice about how they purchase, what they purchase, and who they purchase from,” explains Valentine. “And in particular, what those materials are that are going into their homes.”
But the Wood Shop’s dedication to sustainability doesn’t stop at its source material. The startup also makes a point of using ecofriendly wood glue, joinery, and finishes such as a beeswax-based coating created by Hives for Humanity, an East Vancouver–based nonprofit that fosters community through the art of apiculture.
Any wood that can’t be used is composted or recycled responsibly and ethically.
Having recently moved from a modest “hobbyist” studio in the Downtown Eastside to a 1,400-square-foot production space in False Creek Flats, the Wood Shop is “amping it up” for its second appearance at the Eastside Culture Crawl with a selection of headboards, credenzas, and adjustable-height tabletops, plus smaller items like desktop planter boxes and charcuterie boards.
Elsewhere, Filament Design and Hobo Woodworks will also be showcasing reclaimed-wood shelving units, briefcases, and stools, while Chop Value—a startup that upcycles disposable bamboo chopsticks into coasters, tabletops, and wall tiles—will be making its Culture Crawl debut on Industrial Avenue.
When stopping by the Wood Shop, be sure to ask about the business’s DIY classes, which offer attendees the chance to build their own reclaimed-wood objects at a fraction of the typical price.
“The fact that we’re building from some really basic materials, and making some really beautiful pieces that people interact with and engage with every day in their homes, makes me quite proud,” says Valentine.