Sunday, August 15, 2010


Massive robot elephant made of reclaimed materials
Robot Elephant made of reclaimed materials
Reduce, reuse, recycle.

We've heard this mantra for decades, but increasingly there's another that should be added to the list--reclaim. There are companies and organizations that reclaim electronics, building materials, cabinetry and denim for insulation, amongst many others. There are untold numbers of people that repurpose wine corks into bulletin boards, torn clothing into cleaning rags, incomplete jigsaw puzzles into picture frames, railroad ties into landscaping structure and and popsicle sticks into... whatever. There are sites dedicated to finding ways to reclaim materials for new purposes, often, but not always crafts and art. In Seattle, there's also Meyer Wells, a company that reclaims urban trees felled by disease or disaster and turns them into beautiful furniture, countertops and other products.

Founder John Wells speaks of the business opportunity in sustainability:
I really believe a designer can make better choices, and that can influence people and move us in a direction that’s more sustainable. That’s what I’ve chosen to do, and I think it’s what’s made us a successful business.
Founder Seth Meyer has more of an artist's sensibility, but both share a typically Northwest zeitgeist:
If there’s one rule in the shop, it’s this: Respect the tree’s narrative — including the chapters about its hard urban life. Mr. Meyer once found a steel snippet embedded in a beautiful cherry slab, perhaps a remnant of a nail used to hammer a “lost cat” sign to the tree. He left it in place, a piece of the story.
The cost of such loving labor isn't cheap. One pays for the character of the result, from transporting recovered trees from demolition or other sites, through processing the wood from raw material to finish. Prices of individual pieces can top $20,000. Does that make sense?

While it might be cheaper to turn such trees into firewood, such elaborate reclamations, made possible by the passion of the craftspeople and the patrons who commission them, set a standard. In the fashion industry, exotic runway shows in New York and Milan showcase absurdly expensive and often impractical clothing which nonetheless provides the direction of more practical togs to come. While Meyer Wells' beautiful work may be out of reach of most of us, the sterling example may lead to an industry that will bring this aesthetic more broadly to more people.

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