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Recession Buster: Receiving a second life

Three owners of a Cleveland furniture business have put together a successful operation in less than two years by using reclaimed lumber from deconstruction projects in the city for their furniture. A Piece of Cleveland (APOC) was founded in January 2008 and the supply of material is endless. An estimated 15,000 homes need to be torn down in Cleveland during the next few years, and those homes contain an amazing amount of old-growth wood.

This entry console is made of reclaimed maple and uses decorative heat-register covers from a schoolhouse built in 1880 for the boot rack along the bottom as well as the handles./Photo courtesy of Jerry Mann

"The main impetus of A Piece of Cleveland being formed was to find another purpose for the materials coming out of these houses that are being torn down around the city," says Aaron Gogolin, one of the three APOC partners. "The whole big idea is called Growth Ring Enterprises and A Piece of Cleveland makes furniture. Urban Lumberjacks of Cleveland is a crew which is actually working with the city and the tri-cities Cuyahoga Community College's green academy. They have a crew that does full-house deconstruction as opposed to demolition."

APOC has 10,000 sq. ft. of space in a warehouse and a crew bundles the wood up from a site, puts it on a truck and delivers it to the warehouse. The houses being razed were built between 1908 and 1920 and most contain lumber that is more than 100 years old.

"Generally it is framing lumber, the 2x4's, 2x8's, that are yellow pine, [sometimes referred to as] longleaf pine and fir," Gogolin says. "We also have hardwood flooring such as maple, beech and heart pine. Most of what we get is the 2-by material, although the last house we did we got some 8x8's. We can get some 20 footers, but it is all laminations; we take out all the pieces we get and laminate them together to make butcher-block style tables."

The wall installation and conference table were made for Vocon Architecture’s office in Cleveland. It is made of Douglas-fir reclaimed from their building during a renovation./Photo courtesy of Jerry Mann.

Since its founding, APOC has been building mostly custom furniture such as conference tables, chairs and smaller tables. Sizes run the gamut, from a 20' x 6' conference table to a tiny end table. Gogolin envisions the day when APOC transitions from custom furniture to production runs.

"Business is doing pretty good right now. It has definitely picked up in the last couple of months. We're trying to make the transition from custom work into retail. So right now we are working on retail prototypes that we would want to direct-sell from our Web site that are also flat-pack shippable so we can be selling outside the city of Cleveland as well. We definitely want to do some production-run stuff. Doing one-offs is not the idea behind A Piece of Cleveland. We want to do multiple pieces with the same idea so we can use a large amount of material."

As opposed to recycling, APOC uses the term "upcycling" to describe its work.

"There is recycling, which is using the same product again for the same purpose, and downcycling, which is like taking a 2x4 and making it into mulch," explains Gogolin. "What we do is upcycling; we take framing lumber and make it into a higher product, tables, chairs, home accessories."

Since all the material is reclaimed lumber, with a little bit of glass and metals mixed in, and environmentally friendly finishes are used, APOC appeals to clients who are inspired by the green movement.

"It does help, especially with customers that are looking for LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certification of buildouts of commercial structures or home structures. If they're looking for a built-in countertop or anything that is built into a house and it is out of recycled content, our reclaimed wood gives you LEED certification points."

When a customer purchases a piece of furniture from APOC, they receive a "rebirth certificate." The certificate shows the customer exactly where the wood in the piece came from and includes some background history of the area as well.

"People can identify with the different wood sources, so they get rebirths and they can get a connection to Cleveland itself by realizing where their wood came from," says Gogolin. "That's the full-circle idea of what we are doing - it used to be a house and now it is a piece of furniture."

The clientele is commercial and residential, basically the average person who is looking for quality furniture. APOC's furniture prices are similar to those at Crate and Barrel, and slightly lower than Restoration Hardware, according to Gogolin. Another branch of Growth Ring Enterprises will open soon - CURLY'S (Cleveland Urban Reclaim Lumberyard) where people can buy reclaimed lumber in the raw stage.

Contact: A Piece of Cleveland, 1440 E. 36th St., 6th Floor, Cleveland, OH 44114.

— Brian Caldwell

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