Workshop Brings Abandoned Homes Back To Life

Jul 14

9:00 AM

By Erin Piscopink

Tagged: All Neighborhoods

Read the CBS Detroit article in its original format or watch the video HERE

Workshop Brings Abandoned Homes Back To Life through Stylish Furniture

Edward Cardenas for
CBS Detroit

The founders of Workshop Detroit are giving new life to old homes throughout the city.

Unlike many stores which feature furniture pieces made from freshly cut lumber, Workshop’s products are made from reclaimed wood from homes in Detroit – and the cities within its border – that were slated for demolition.

James Willer and Kevin Borsay opened the small furniture store and workshop inside the Fisher Building in late 2013, and are building a new industry for reclaimed building materials.

“It is a shame to be spending hundreds of millions of federal dollars to throw this material into a landfill when we could be using that as an investment in the city to create a new economy around these materials,” said Willer, whose family has been building homes in the area for four generations.

Willer stated while others reclaim mantles, flooring and other easy to access items, no one was “touching this old-growth, structural lumber. That is where I stepped in.”

He works with local government agencies to identify homes for deconstruction, and then systematically dismantles the structures to reclaim the material.

His business uses 2×4 studs, 2×6 floor joist, rafters and the structural lumber harvested from Michigan forests including Eastern White Pines.

Using simple designs, the reclaimed wood is rescued from the landfill and re-purposed for shelving, dinner tables and lounge chairs.

Willer was first inspired to create the line of furniture after renovating Stella Good Coffee with reclaimed wood from a home built in 1905 on Cadillac Blvd.

He took that concept and turned it into a line of furniture. And the pieces of wood used in each piece has unique character features including marks from the lumber mill, small holes where the nails once were located and the holes where electrical lines once ran through.

Each piece of furniture is also stamped with the address from where the lumber was reclaimed, and getting a piece of “Detroit history,” stated Kevin Borsay.

“We know this was an old-growth forest originally when it was harvested, that was its first life. Its second life was in this home in Detroit, and the third life is as a piece of furniture with the address stamped on the bottom,” said Borsay.

And only after six months in business, Workshop has gained the attention of furniture chain Gardner White.

“We couldn’t be more proud to be working Gardner White, a Michigan-based company, (that is) heavily invested in the community and doing everything they can to create jobs – same as us,” Willer said. “It was very serendipitous for us to work with them. We see it as a great opportunity to continue to grow this industry.”