Every piece of wood carries a unique history of the tree that it once was, a fingerprint of its immediate environment. Within its rings, built over stretches of time, there is evidence of the lean years and the good years, telling a story of a slow and beautiful growth. When a tree stands tall, it provides shade, sustenance and habitat for countless birds and insects. After it is felled, the lumber serves many another purposes, yet each piece of wood from its trunk is not just a valuable resource, but also testament to a living history.
For those who work with reclaimed woods there is an inherent admiration for the material itself, a deep respect for this slow growing, strong and beautiful building material. With wood we have built whole societies, elaborate structures and constructed everything from furniture to musical instruments to writing implements, all of which communicate thoughts and feelings. Wood is a medium that endures with age. Over time the fibers tighten and become stronger while the grain develops depth and a beautiful patina sets in. Many artisans share a profound reverence for the wood that they work with, a sense that the wood holds within it a story waiting to be told and that their job is to allow this story to unfold through the pieces they create.
Thorben Wuttke, of Forward Thinking Furniture, came to Hawai'i from Germany in 2003 on vacation. Like so many others who have been bitten by the Hawaiian beach bug, he found himself enchanted and decided to relocate for good. Moving first to the Big Island, he relocated to O'ahu in 2009 and began working for Re-Use Hawai'i, a non-profit that deconstructs houses and sells salvaged wood and other building materials and appliances. Being in that environment inspired him to start working with reclaimed lumber and he hasn't looked back.
Having been in business just under one year, he's already been commissioned for commercial projects at Starbucks, Macy's Pineapple Room and a variety of custom residential projects. Thorben's Kalihi warehouse is filled with carefully organized stacks of reclaimed woods that he has collected, including several thick, old pieces of pine that he is particularly fond of, holding a beauty that only comes with age. Committed to being as eco-friendly as possible, Thorben uses non-toxic stains and finishes whenever he can.
Using reclaimed woods and repurposed materials, Wuttke turned the second floor of his warehouse into a multipurpose loft, a home and office in one sustainable package. Every bit the repurpose master, he is on a forward-thinking mission, "We all need to re-think if we want to get back into a balance with our very own nature and allow the survival of mankind on this planet." He believes that this conscious choice can come to life with the furniture we select for our homes.
For Jennifer Homcy, each piece of wood has a soul mate in a piece of art. Her job is to be the matchmaker, constructing meaningful frames for specific works of art. She finds her wood in many different ways, sometimes feeling like she, "was meant to repurpose it, because it has been rejected by others."
Growing up she was taught by her father not to waste, a seed that planted deep within Homcy. Seeing the intrinsic value in the history of the wood and the story it has to tell, she calls her design inspiration "Art-centric," meaning that each frame is crafted specific to the shapes, colors, lines, textures, curves and the flow of the artwork itself. For this reason, she may hold on to a piece of wood for extended periods of time, until the right artwork arrives to partner with it.
Often using the natural, organic edge of the wood, she tries to show that the wood actually came from a living tree, creating space for the connection of the inert material to the vibrant and complex life it once had. Each piece she creates is understandably unique, the inspiration wrought from a visual cue in the artwork she is framing. "Sometimes when I see a piece of art I instantly see the wood, which happened most recently with a Jim Russi piece," Homcy joyfully explains. "He opened the art and I ran to my closet and came out with the most perfectly matched color, grain and textured piece."
Living in Kahuku as a retired fireman, James Sutherland found time in his later life to return to his childhood love, woodworking. Growing up in a DIY family, buying wood at the hardware store was always considered a last resort. Instead, they would scavenge and salvage wood wherever they could and make what they needed for their home.
In the 1990s he started building Adirondack chairs, a classic lanai chair made popular on the porches of places like Martha's Vineyard. Taking the wood he finds in places as varied as demolition sites, dumpsters and Craigslist, he carefully uncovers the original beauty of the wood, often leaving bits of the original paint or stain for accent color, a trademark of his chairs and ottomans.
"Woodworking is slowly teaching me patience," says Sutherland. "Wood is beautiful. When you strip the paint off an old piece or plane the grubby rough-sawn surface off to reveal the grain beneath, it's like opening a present every time."
To see more of photos of each artists, go to the eZine on page 20. Click Here