Most people whiz past building sites and dumpsters without giving them a second thought. But to Madera Furniture’s Dean Stubbings, they’re the perfect opportunity to stop the car, jump out and start poking around for discarded wood.
Building furniture has always been a passion for Stubbings, who grew up on the East Coast but moved to Berkeley in 1994. What sets him apart is the philosophy he’s carried with him from the start. From dead trees to old buildings, he uses salvaged wood found within miles of his workshop – and eco-friendly finishes and stains – to create furniture that is not only beautiful but also environmentally conscious to the extreme. Sounds pretty great to me. Here, then, is Stubbings taking us through the first Artist Questionnaire.
I recently threw my box of mementos from my High School woodworking class in the dumpster. What happened to yours?
I really enjoyed woodworking in High School and I think the first piece I built [in class] was a side table with a glass top. My good friend Adam still has it! I never really thought I would be doing this for a living, but I’m really glad I am.
How did you get into building furniture using salvaged wood?
When I first moved to Berkeley, I got a job at Urban Ore and suddenly had instant access to salvaged wood, hardware and tools. It was time to get creative. I started out building furniture for our apartment. Once I was comfortable enough, I started experimenting with simple outdoor garden benches. I showed them to local nurseries and The Wooden Duck and the rest is history. [Other clients include Stanford University and Serena Armstrong Interiors.]
What’s your design philosophy?
I want my furniture to be functional, environmentally friendly and have a low impact overall on the environment. 99.9 percent of the wood I use is locally salvaged. I’ve used trees that were dead from disease and I’ve dumpster dived at building sites for perfect wood. My designs are not very involved. I like simple and functional. My signature pieces are the Adirondacks and the raw edge dining tables. People love that they’ve bought something that was not only built within miles of their home, but with materials found around the corner. And the fact that you met the person that built your dining table is pretty cool.
How does doing what you love make you feel about your place in the world?
Building something out of wood found in the trash is extremely satisfying. Maybe next time you want to re-do your fence, you will think twice about what that wood could possibly be used for. The creating is only half the fun. A good example: I recently salvaged wood from a building that used to be a brothel back in 1874. All that history turning into a functional piece of furniture in your home…I like that.
Madera Furniture is located in Marin County, California. You can reach owner Dean Stubbings at (415) 516-3567.
Photographs by Silvana Di Franco ©2012.