Makers Upcycle Discarded Wood Into Fine Furnishings
East Bay woodworkers JP Frary and SapphirePine are among local furniture makers creating functional and beautiful furnishings from wood that would otherwise be castoffs.
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
Salvaged wood has become widely popular as a structural and furniture material for residences and businesses. The appeal of connecting with natural elements through everyday living surfaces is nothing new, and popular home fix-it-up television shows featuring reclaimed wood used in industrial and farmhouse styles are propelling the salvaged wood business. For some independent furniture makers, responsible woodworking has become a must. East Bay woodworkers JP Frary and SapphirePine are among the local furniture makers creating functional and beautiful furnishings from wood that would otherwise be castoffs.
In 1995, JP Frary had to fashion his pieces from reclaimed wood because he couldn’t afford new solid pieces of wood. Having left a world of politics and taken a stint working for a contractor, the self-taught woodworker searched for planks from building sites and home demolition crews that would have otherwise been discarded. Using traditional joint and fastener techniques, he spent hours gluing small strips together to make larger pieces of wood that were then usable for making furniture. Years of perfecting the lamination process has resulted in unique tables, stools, and pedestal furniture, bowls, vessels, and modern art pieces with a Japanese-style influence as well as custom Craftsman-style garage doors made with what was once a mahogany bookcase.
Now working out of Alameda Point Studios on Alameda’s former naval base, Frary gets his materials from several sources and has become a well-known post-industrial wood furniture craftsman among the builders. Thin strips left over from special moldings are glued into boards and fashioned into bowls on the lathe; scraps from roofers are glued into cubes to make tables and stools; and small wood pieces that resemble particle board in sheet form, typically thrown away by lumber mills, are cubed to result in a texture resembling granite.
“There’s no greater feeling than seeing a family sitting at a table I made for them — kids doing homework, having dinner, and playing board games — and knowing that the table’s wood spent 50 years as beams holding up the roof of some building,” said Frary.
JP Frary’s work has been sold in Bay Area galleries and through commissioned work. Recently, one of his art pieces was showcased at the Napa Valley Museum, and he plans to continue work on a modern version of a Craftsman-style chair that will be offered on Kickstarter. He also provides private apprenticeships and instruction for those interested in building wood-based items from scratch.
Growing up in Colorado surrounded by trees, Sam Schabacker was well aware of forest fires, drought, and bark beetle infestation. It wasn’t until driving from Colorado to California through the Sierra Nevada that he witnessed the widespread devastation of drought and bark beetle infestation on California’s towering pine trees. With a background in environmental policy and advocacy, coupled with having built his family’s furniture from Colorado beetle-kill pine, Schabacker got the idea to salvage trees from large-scale California pines that would otherwise be left to burn or rot, intensifying the risk of forest fires. Oakland’s SapphirePine was created when he teamed up with former colleague and fellow environmental advocate Sandra Lupien to turn affected wood into durable pieces of furniture that captured its unique patterns and textures.
Dining tables, benches, side tables, and coffee tables are made from thick slabs of California beetle-kill ponderosa or sugar pine from the Sierra Nevada. After working with the customer to determine live or straight edges, SapphirePine kiln-dries the slab and finishes it with an eco-friendly varnish that preserves the wood’s light base tones while bringing out the blue, green, and orange highlights left by the beetles. The company works with small excavators and mill operators who process trees that private landowners and utilities are required to remove for safety reasons.
When asked about key influences for the company’s furniture, Lupien said its eco-modern industrial design’s final piece is ultimately dependent on their clients’ personalities. “We’re small enough that we can try to match the characteristics of a slab — the presence or absence of knots, the intensity and pattern of the color, the angle and shape of the live edge — to what we know about the taste and personality of the client.”
SapphirePine builds to order and sells direct to clients. Prototype dining tables and bench sets are displayed at Neyborly-Poet’s Corner, and the company’s breadboards are available at Bay-Made in Oakland.