When you think of historical structures that are synonymous with Sacramento, the old Globe Mills building certainly comes to mind. In tribute to the bygone days when the mill was one of the largest producers of flour in California, one man is turning its discarded structural beams into home furnishings and accessories. An advocate of the bespoke furniture movement, general contractor Steven Tiller launched Reclamation Art and Furniture in April 2011. After the bottom fell out of the housing-construction market, Tiller decided to turn his longtime hobby of transforming reclaimed materials into new pieces into a business.
What is bespoke?
There’s a difference between bespoke and custom. Bespoke is made to order from a line that you’re already doing, and custom is from scratch and really specific to one client. So what I’m really trying to focus on is the bespoke stuff—things that are my concepts, my design, and we just reproduce, made to order, as the client needs it.
Describe the first piece of furniture you built.
I was probably a freshman or sophomore in high school, and my dad had brought home this huge industrial drafting table—the kind of thing you’d see in an old Boeing plant from the ’50s. It was this gigantic metal table with a huge top. We couldn’t get the metal desk part upstairs, so I ended up disassembling it and taking the drafting table off and doing a really cool tilt-up frame for the table. I ended up using that table for years, all the way into my 20s. So that was probably the first completely functional piece I did. I built lots of stuff as a little kid, but that was the first.
What inspired you to work with reclaimed materials?
I think that we are, as a community, losing a lot of our new material resources, or if we do have new materials, they’re expensive. So it just kind of made sense. A lot of the early art that I did was like using old bookshelves to do paintings on.
How did you come upon the opportunity to work with the structural beams from the old Globe Mills building?
So the history behind Globe Mills is that there had been a fire there, and it was empty for years. Then Skip Rosenbloom, who’s the landlord of this lot and was a part of the development company that redid the Globe Mills into what it is now, still owns all of the timbers. Then, as we come up with projects for them, we’ll purchase the material from him.
What other materials do you work with?
My plan was to focus on that material and come up with a use for that material. In reality, I did a few really cool pieces [with the structural beams], but it hasn’t been my focus. My focus has moved toward the smaller bike valets and using urban harvest walnut, which just happened to be more accessible. The [beams] have to be milled, and there’s a whole process to getting those beams down to where they’re ready to make into furniture, and I had some other material that was more accessible, [which is] urban harvest walnut and elm.
There is a local tree forester that takes down trees for the city due to storm damage, dangerous or hazardous trees, usually in the downtown urban area. He comes and collects for the city, or the client, or property owner, and if the city or the owner doesn’t want the trees, he ends up with the material. He cures it, dries it, he has a large mill, and then he stacks it all. So I’ve been getting a lot of walnut [from him]. There’s a surprising amount of walnut available.
You also produce custom pieces. What is the most interesting commission you’ve worked on?
I did table for a lady in Brooklyn, and I did a large dining table for [visual artist] Maren Conrad here in town, it was a big 14-seat table out of the Globe Mills material, and that was a really cool piece. It’s made of three wide planks with blue triangles underneath. It was kind of Maren’s concept. She showed me a photograph of a table she had seen in Napa, and asked me if I could kind of do something along those lines. It’s an outdoor, farm-style table, and it’s definitely a statement piece.
What does the future hold for Reclamation Art and Furniture?
Right now our goal is focusing on the bike valets, both in the wood and in the metal, because they’re small units and they’re something that we can ship. It’s more of something that we’re working on we that can get a larger exposure on. The metal bike valet is something we’re going to launch on Kickstarter in the next couple of weeks. We’re using Kickstarter to fund the manufacturing of the larger quantities for sale, because right now, they’re made four or five at a time.