Shop teacher Josh Mabe was asked to throw out the scrap wood left over from his class.
It was an assortment of several types of wood, shades and grains, split and splintered.
But Mabe couldn’t bring himself to get rid of it.
Instead, he took it home.
Over the next three months he built a family dining room table out of the wood scraps.
It was a personal turning point that resulted in the launch of a handmade furniture business, Twenty1Five, in which Mabe and his business partner Randy Valentine take in old, discarded wood and bring it back to life.
Twenty1Five is among a growing group of small businesses devoted to the concept of sustainability with a socially conscious business model. Instead of buying wood, they find it in old abandoned barns, fences or old railroad carts.
A few cabinet companies donate wood scraps to them — everything from maple, to cedar to teak and the harder-to-come by black limba from West Africa.
They’re even doubling their conservation efforts by planting a tree for every piece of furniture they sell.
Part of the business plan is to provoke a discussion about sustainability efforts communitywide, said Valentine, who previously worked for the Humanitarian International Services Group.
“We want to include a community aspect to the business, to teach the community about preserving wood,” he said.
Mabe left his teaching job and opened the business in his garage in September 2011 and Valentine joined him full-time last month. They reached deep into savings accounts and plan to bootstrap the business, which now operates out of a warehouse in Palmer Lake. Mabe makes the furniture; Valentine makes the cold calls to designers.
“We felt deep in our hearts that we were supposed to take a risk,” Mabe said.
They bought a few machines — table and mitre saws — but much of their equipment was donated, equipment that had been stashed away in someone’s garage, Mabe said, and now has purpose again, just like the wood.
Mabe always had an eye for rustic furniture. But his designs take on a more modern look. One customer described the work as “organic elegance.” The finish on the furniture is smooth and brings out the colors of the wood. Valentine calls it functional art. Each piece has some sort of talking point — burn marks, welts, hinge marks, cuts or nail holes. Valentine’s dining room table, for example, features wood from an old, falling-down barn built in the 1800s in Black Forest.
“This table has a story,” he said. “Now, it’s got a new life.”
Toni Callan of Colorado Springs was looking for a way to use some wood her family saved when their Ohio family homestead barn was razed. She needed someone to love the wood as much as she did, she said. And, she wanted the design to be simple — to let the wood speak for itself.
“My great grandfather came over from Germany and he built that barn,” Callan said. “Those pieces are junk wood to some people. But, it’s our heritage.”
Mabe is turning the woodpile into a dinner table for Callan. The design includes a center piece of slate, taken from the barn’s roof.
“I’m partial to the history of anything,” Callan said. “Whether that is an old building or old wood being repurposed — it keeps it alive somehow.”
The name Twenty1Five comes from the Bible, Revelations 21:5, where it is told that Jesus said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
“That’s what we do,” Mabe said.
One table is equal to about five large trash bags of wood that would have been tossed in a landfill, burned or discarded and forgotten, he said.
“I want to bring life to something that was going to be thrown away,” he said.
Twenty1Five furniture is sold in Earthen Artisan House in Old Colorado City and is some stores in Denver. But the company is selling most of its items from its website. Their immediate goal is to sell five pieces a month — a goal they are meeting, Valentine said. Prices range from $1,000 to about $4,000. And, there are new designs in the works including designs for floors and doors, Valentine said.
It’s amazing the wood pieces that have found their way to Twenty1Five, Valentine said. In the warehouse, they have old hickory from a Colorado courthouse and planks from torn-down buildings from the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan. Next month, Mabe and Valentine will head out to Leal, Colo. to pick up donated oak and pine from some of the town’s original buildings.
Rubbing his hand over the discarded, reclaimed wood in his warehouse, Mabe notes the marks from sawmills, nails or staples.
“I want to preserve the beauty of the wood,” he said.