Reviving the art of furniture: Five local maker teams collaborate in Tacoma’s Revive

It’s definitely not Ikea. Walk into Revive on Puyallup Avenue, and before you even get through the twig-shaped wrought iron gates you know you’re not in a typical home furnishings store. Housed in a remodeled 1930s building and given a head-start by Tacoma arts program Spaceworks, Revive walks a stylish line between gallery and furniture shop — a haven of local makers who craft sustainable, sculptural beauty from wood, concrete and fabric. And in its first two months, Revive is starting to prove that Tacoma wants that beauty.

“It’s a beautiful space,” says Chris Barone, one half of Alchemy Concrete Works, which is one of the five Revive partners. “I like that it’s so open and light, and the wood everywhere is so suitable for what we do.”

Revive is a classic Spaceworks Tacoma project. Five independent artisan teams, some just begun, others already selling custom furniture to clients on the East Coast, all introduced hastily to each other when the building on the corner of East D Street and Puyallup Avenue became available. Owners Rick Semple and Jori Adkins had spent the last year renovating its former glory, complete with salmon-and-aqua paint trim, tile relief flanking the wide front door and those iron gates, like a winter hedge with birds. Inside, the space is equally perfect for a showroom: hardwood floors, tall storefront windows in balanced groups of three, wide wooden display stages and elegant moldings.

It works because Revive isn’t your average furniture store. The five partners focus on sustainable, unique items: Alchemy does creative custom concrete, RePly makes beautifully-grained tables, curvy stools and tiny boxes from salvaged plywood. Wane and Flitch turn live-edge wood slabs into stunning tables and benches. Birdloft makes funky mid-century pieces from salvaged wood and steel. And Spring Fever Upholstery reimagines vintage chairs and pillows with eclectic new fabrics.

The initial rent-free Spaceworks lease is for four months, but things are selling well enough that the Revive folks want to renew. Here’s a snapshot profile of each Revive partner and why they love what they do.

RePly Furniture: Steve Lawler

Tell us what you do.

Lawler: I salvage plywood mostly from cabinet shops — they throw away pieces for free anywhere from a two-inch strip to a full sheet slightly cut into. I also use hardwoods like walnut and oak. I’ve always worked with tools, and I began RePly in 2008 while I was working at a cabinet shop after a career change. In 2010 I got laid off from the shop and went full-time.

What inspired you?

Lawler: When I was in Mexico I met this guy that built furniture out of pallets. I thought it was cool. Plywood is really interesting as a material, but what really appeals to me is that I’m not contributing to this issue with the environment. I’m doing something that, in a very small way, can help fix it.

Is the maker movement growing in Tacoma?

Lawler: It is taking off here. It’s growing everywhere, and Tacoma is no exception. What people struggle with is finding a market for it — it’s easier in Seattle or Portland. I love being a part of that movement. We’re not ashamed to pull (clients) from Seattle — people realize they can get a better deal here.

Why does Revive work for you?

Lawler: I sell most of my work at art shows, and I sell best when people can touch and feel it — I don’t sell much on my website or Etsy. So having a showroom here is really important.

BirdLoft: Jeff Libby and (wife) Adrienne Wicks

Tell us what you do.

Libby: We make custom furniture from reclaimed materials like Douglas fir and high-recycled-content steel. We’ve been doing this since 2010.

How do you find your wood?

Libby: It’s a hunt! Just recently I got a beautiful Santos mahogany from a freighter in the Tideflats. I turned it into a serving tray with a steel base. We find wood on Craigslist, or from people who know other people with wood. We got an amazing haul of old-growth fir from a turn-of-the-century building when a veterinarian came in to Revive, saw our stuff and told us about this neighbor of his that had a pile of wood. That wouldn’t have happened without Revive.

Why do you do it?

Libby: We love working with wood: Old wood is much denser, from the time when forests were shady and wild. Adrienne and I were doing additions and remodels (we’re trained architects), and we would tear out all this wood and save it. We realized we had to do something with it. The combination of making and designing is something we both love. And it took off much faster than our remodeling!

Why do you like Revive?

Libby: A lot of our stuff goes to New York or San Francisco, so Revive is a way of us getting local. That’s a big part of it — we want our stuff to stay here.

Will it work?

Libby: I don’t know. The connection to finding new supplies is exciting. But it’s an experiment — we’re optimistic.

Spring Fever Upholstery: Cynthia Totten

Tell us what you do.

Totten: I reupholster vintage chairs, footstools, ottomans and loveseats with fabrics that I source from California. And I’ve just started this cushion-cover line with dupioni silk. I don’t restore — I don’t want them to look like 1950s or 1970s chairs. I give them a whole new life.

Is that common around here?

Totten: No! I wanted to learn it here but I couldn’t find anything, so I went to upholstery school in San Diego. There’s none in the Northwest. I’m the only person I know around here that does thing kind of thing.

How long have you done it?

Totten: For myself, five years; professionally, 21/2 years. But I’ve been sewing since I was eight and have always been an avid recycler. With that and the need to create, it had to gel into furniture.

What inspires you?

Totten: I like taking chairs down to my basement workshop and reimagining them. Like this Ethan Allen loveseat from the ’70s, which I recovered in a bright blue ikat fabric — that’s what I like.

Alchemy Concrete Works: Christine Barone and (husband) Mike Carpenter

Tell us what you do.

Barone: We make things from concrete: walls, fireplaces surrounds, countertops, sinks, furniture bowls, plant pots. Mike builds the forms, and we pour and design it together. Our work is sustainable: We use GFRC (Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete) mix with 60 percent less Portland cement than standard wet-cast. (It’s also) up to 75 percent less weight than the standard, and reduces the carbon output. We use 100 percent recycled sand and no river rock, and a lot of reclaimed wood and steel.

Why do you like concrete?

Barone: There are so many things you can do ... there are endless possibilities. That’s what’s so appealing. And it’s so tactile. Everybody walks in here and touches it.

Is Revive a good thing for you?

Barone: I’ve always wanted to collaborate with other maker artists. It’s a perfect fit. The beauty of all our work is that it lends itself to others, so we mix it up in the shop, keep it fresh. There is a movement for the handmade and people who appreciate these things. It’s a question of how to reach those folks.

Wane and Flitch: Jon Sayre, Brett Johnson, Jeff Wolff

Tell us what you do.

Sayre: We find dead or fallen trees, cut them into slabs and turn them into furniture with the live edge exposed. We also sell milled wood and cut logs for people.

How is it sustainable?

Sayre: We don’t go hunting for trees. We’re not loggers — we’re the ones that save trees from being chipped or cut for firewood. We find trees that have been cut down, from all around Tacoma, and it’s a race to get there before they’re chopped into rings. Plus with processed woods you have so many glues, and the factory pollution — we use a locally-made, oil-based finish, or a low-VOC water-based finish. This is a very green way of operating.

How long have you been going?

Sayre: We’ve only been in business for three months. I do the production, Brett does the business management, and Jeff does printing and marketing – but we all have side jobs (Costco, insulation, printing).

Johnson: This is the first step in shifting Wane and Flitch to a full-time deal.

Sayre: Revive came up while we were sorting this out — Brett was actually doing the insulation on the building, and we knew we wanted to be in there. We have our business and workshop up on East 72nd Street, but we’re excited to be on Puyallup Avenue.

What do you like about live-edge wood?

Sayre: When people walk in here and look at a piece of sawn rough wood (the flitch), they just see wood. I see a headboard, or maybe a shelf. ... It speaks to everyone differently; it’s personal. And the live edge (the wane) is what it’s all about. Normally if you have a smooth finish with a rough edge of bark, it’s seen as a defect. But we want that.