A class act - Reclaiming the past

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When an opportunity arose to lease a space with 3,500 sq. ft., Spencer grabbed it. “We hired two more people for the shop — David DeCristoforo and Rigoberto Rodriguez, who focuses on finishing. I also have an office manager, Jessica Trandel,” he says. Earlier this year, he hired one more, Kacey Schaffrath, who is working on drafting and design, and also will be the first woman to work on the shop floor. All these, plus Waldo Alfaro, a graduate of Los Angeles Trade Technical College, make up the staff.

Reclaiming the past
Today, even though Spencer says, “my hands are in every project,” he is now able to devote most of his time to designing, handling client contact, and doing cost estimates. And every once in awhile, he will personally craft a project that intrigues him, such as two rockers that were made from seating that came from Fenway Park in Boston.

This particular use of “old wood” is an extreme example of Spencer’s wish to run his business in as sustainable and eco-friendly a manner as he can. “A big part of my motivation is my son, Scout. I want him to have a future on this planet.”

Thus, Cliff Spencer Furniture Maker uses as much as possible, wastes very little, and even donates the sawdust it generates to local gardeners, who use it for composting. “Whenever we can,” Spence explains, “we use reclaimed lumber. Our main sources are the wineries of the Napa Valley, and we are also beginning to get some from the Santa Barbara region. We have also built gates from a cypress tree that fell down during a windstorm in Monterey. That tree came from a company called Earth Source in Oakland. They sell both virgin and reclaimed lumber, and we received the entire yield of the tree, already milled and dried. There is still one slab left, and that probably will become a bench.”

Spencer also searches the Internet for backyard trees that have either toppled or had to be removed. “There are many benefits to working with reclaimed lumber,” he asserts, listing all of the following:

• It is sustainable; there is no lessening of the Earth’s resources.

• It is available, and so much is viable.

• It is “fun” to seek out new woods that haven’t been used before, and that may not be available or affordable in the virgin state

• It is exciting to face the challenges that sometimes arise with reclaimed lumber, e.g. twists and cracks that may be found in wind-fallen trees, or finishing solutions that must be found when working with oak that is stained from use in wine manufacturing

“We have not yet worked with any endangered species, which, of course, can only be allowed if the wood has been previously used,” says Spencer. “We are looking forward to that,” he adds.

The owner does, however, acknowledge one hurdle that must be overcome when using reclaimed lumber: “Although 10 out of 10 customers say they like our designs using this material, only two out of 10 will actually buy it. We believe that over time, and with all of the positive publicity now being devoted to finding green solutions, that more and more consumers will come to see the value in this type of construction.”

Looking ahead, Spencer says, “Leigh and I have a forward-looking business vision that goes 10 years into the future. We hope to have a company that offers diversified lines, including cabinets, wood furniture and upholstered furniture. And we want it all to represent the highest quality design and manufacturing standards.” n