Do you know that feeling when you hold or touch something and you can just tell that it's well made? There's a certain heft, say, to a leather bound journal that a spiral bound notebook will never have. Or an ethereal lightness to a silk scarf that no amount of technology can lend to a polyester blend. Butter vs. margarine. Oak vs. particle board. You get it.
It's that tangible dimension of tactile realness inherent in objects that are carefully crafted (not fancy things, per se, but fine things) that we at HubBub strive to weave into every aspect of what we do, from the coffee we serve (of course), down to the table where you sit to drink it.
That table, and many tables in our cafes are built by Sandtown Millworks, a group of craftsmen based in Baltimore, MD. They make simply gorgeous furniture from ethically sourced, reclaimed wood that's so rich it almost glows: home furnishings like dining room tables and desks, as well as custom work for businesses. Instead of buying tables from a random restaurant supply company, we get our tables handmade from them.
The Sandtown Millworks story is as noble as their creations. Two guys, combining creative, technical genius with business savvy, pulling forgotten wood out of dilapidated houses in Baltimore, and transforming it into elegant objects that flawlessly combine form and function. James, Sandtown Millworks' General Manager, answered a few of our questions and illuminated even more about this awesome company.
HubBub: What is Sandtown Millworks in your own words? Would you say you have a specialty?
James: Sandtown Millworks is a group of guys who believe and prove that beautiful furniture can be built locally and by hand, by materials that otherwise would end up in a landfill.
HubBub: Who is your core team?
James: John Bolster and Will Phillips are the co-founders of the company. John is a trained architect and contractor, and has been working with reclaimed materials while renovating Baltimore homes for around 15 years. Will is a talented idea man and really the driving business mind behind Sandtown Millworks. Jim Klausmeyer is our talented head woodworker. He is in charge of all of the furniture as it comes through the shop. I am the general manager, and I deal with marketing, customer management, wood sourcing and deliveries. Peter Martin is a junior woodworker and works in the shop.
HubBub: How did you guys get this started?
James: John had been making unique pieces for the homes he renovated made from salvaged wood for years, and Will had been involved with Habitat for Humanity in the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore. Will was able to secure a large amount of reclaimed wood from the Sandtown homes, and came to John to develop a line of furniture with it.
HubBub: Whoa, awesome. What were some challenges of setting out on your own? Did you face any challenges that made you think twice?
James: The main challenge for us as a semi-startup company is getting the word out about our work to grow, while steadily increasing our production capabilities. It is also a bit of a juggling act procuring and storing enough wood to keep us comfortable in our supply, and without making our entire shop a storage facility.
HubBub: Wood, like coffee, seems like a commodity that has been somewhat irresponsibly sourced in the past, but now people are paying more attention to where it comes from. How do you guys go about ensuring that the wood you use meets your standards, both aesthetically and environmentally?
James: As a general rule of thumb, we use rough-sawn wood that is around 85 years and older with the bulk of our material being around 100-120 yrs old. Once we salvage it, we put a lot of thought into to what type of piece it will work best as. We have a multitude of styles and finishes which utilize the different aesthetics and characteristics of the different types of wood we find. We will use old floor joists, wall studs, roof boards and even lath strips used in plaster walls.
HubBub: Good furniture can be so expensive. What do you say to people who feel like their only option is to shop at Ikea?
James: We understand that, so we keep our prices reasonable and competitive, particularly for handmade furniture of this quality. Our pieces are also guaranteed for life, so while Ikea may be cheaper, it certainly won't last you forever, and we feel there is value in that.
HubBub: That makes a lot of sense. Any particularly fun or unique custom projects you've done lately?
James: We have done some really unique and huge 16 foot long conference tables for some local businesses. We’ve also done some beautiful interior sliding barn doors and several custom vanities in the past few months.
HubBub: What's the best part of your day?
James: The best part of my day is the fact that no two days of mine are the same. I may spend one day hauling dirty wood from an old building, the next collaborating with architects on a custom design, and the next displaying our work at our local Farmers Market.
HubBub: Do you guys drink coffee? Any favorite styles, methods of brewing, or places in Baltimore to get coffee?
James: I drink a ton of coffee! I try to support a cool local shop near our shop called Koba Cafe as much as possible. If I'm in Philly, HubBub is the spot!
James, we can’t thank you enough! We are smitten with our Sandtown Millworks tables.