Deadwood Revival Design
Imagine an off-grid, self-sufficient, resilient, and carbon neutral home. That’s what you’ll find at Mariposa Meadows, and we are thrilled to be a part of the magic with the team at Deadwood Revival Design.
“Surrounded by millions of acres of national forest in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado near Telluride, the VISION House at Mariposa Meadows unites extraordinary design, extreme performance, innovative products, and intelligent technology.” –Green Builder Media
Deadwood Revival Design is building a whole house furniture series for the VISION House at Mariposa Meadows made in part from our locally sourced urban lumber.
In today’s conversation, we welcome in our friend Daniel Torres from Deadwood Revival Design. Daniel witnessed firsthand the terrible aftermath of forest wildfires while working as a firefighter for the Los Padres National Forest. The sight and thought of these once majestic forests left for dead inspired him to take action. His need to breathe life back into some of these trees led him to co-found Deadwood Revival Design, where he was able to combine his passion for chainsaws and skills as a sawyer in the most impactful way. His mission is simple, sustainably harvested lumber in order to bring back to life, what was left for dead.
Introduction to Daniel
Daniel and I met each other at the California Urban Forest Council event in San Luis Obispo earlier this year. He was familiar with us through other relationships in the field. He hosted an event at the shop where they could all break bread and commiserate as like-minded people over the woodworking industry, which I attended as well. Super exciting. So much fun.
In 2009, Daniel started working for the forest service as a wildland firefighter in Colorado. Up until then he had been a city boy, living in Puerto Rico and Miami. What he started noticing was the incredible amount of beetle kill. As he was driving to one of his first assignments, they were going to remove hazard trees. You could see the hills painted with brown evergreens (which are supposed to remain green). All bugs.
Later on, he took a job in forest service in California. As he traveled around fighting fire, he saw the same theme of standing dead timber. While it was impressive, it was also so sad. Seeing a forest of burn-up match sticks feels like a wasted resource. These dead trees are a hazard for fire spread.
*Fully burned standing logs can often be charred on the outside but fully intact on the inside. Even if some of the charring has gone through, as long as it hasn’t affected the full integrity of the tree, the lumber is still usable
On Christmas Day one year in Big Sur, a captain about to retire was talking about moving to Australia, cutting to wood, and making a living from building furniture. They do a lot of chainsaw work, and he had a Granberg Alaskan Mill. They were cutting and stacking wood. That planted the idea in Daniel’s head to buy a mill and play with it during the winter when they were less busy.
People up in Mendocino National Forest owned all this land with bugkill pine and a Madrone. That was the first experience he used his own mill to cut. He knew nothing about woodworking, but he held the wood in storage for a year. A year later, he was having a drink with this bartender, Scott, who suggested they could build furniture from it. They got together, and this is how Daniel got started in this space.
An interesting report Daniel read was that 25% of the canopy of the forest in California is actually standing dead from drought, bugs, disease, fire, or other reasons. Standing dead trees can last “standing safe” for years, meaning they are hazards through spreading fire or falling on innocent people. He also read that 80% of the lumber is actually imported from somewhere else, even though all of this lumber is available in California already. This is unnecessary and damaging to the environment.
How Deadwood Revival Came to Be
Everyone at Deadwood has a skill strength. Daniel’s strengths are chainsaws and sourcing lumber. He’s a great customer service guy. But Deadwood wouldn’t be what it is without Mitch and Pepe. Pepe graduated architecture school and has an extensive background in construction. Mitch worked with Daniel in the forest service and also has a background in construction.
Scott who used to work with Deadwood introduced Daniel to Pepe, a designer who is all about metalwork. Deadwood was nothing at this point but an idea. When they first reached out to Pepe, they tested him essentially. They asked what he could do with what they had. They had a redwood top that they wanted to use for a coffee table; Pepe asked for a day to make the base. Once they saw the designs, Daniel was like, “Please come be a part of this company.”
Eventually, Scott departed due to other obligations, so it was just Daniel and Pepe. They were doing the woodworking, but it isn’t either of their strengths. That’s where Mitch comes in! He couldn’t join at first, but the timing worked out later.
Mitch got into woodworking through a lot of YouTube videos and some trial and error. His grandfather was a big woodworker, so he used to do a lot of projects with him when he was a little kid.
Deadwood is based in San Luis Obispo, which has over 900 species of tree. There are a lot of vineyards out there. Recently, they got in contact with a farmer who was removing a walnut orchard. Initially, it was 350 trees that his grandfather planted after he left the military right after the Korean War. Trees have life cycles, and these trees were no longer fruitful. Deadwood took 120 walnuts, and the rest is coming up at the end of this year.
Deadwood is BIG on partnerships. Creating strong relationships with people in the community or other like-minded organizations is so key for growth, especially if you’re new and trying to break into the space. Being a people person, Daniel realizes that woodworkers are often not as sociable, but he also knows the secret to sustainability is 100% those relationships.
There are no real, “competition” threats for Deadwood. The urban lumber market is so niche that they need to lean on each other in order to build this up. The more they can market together and inspire others to learn more about this market, the more work they will all have.
Speaking of partnerships, let’s talk about the Mariposa VISION Home Project. Deadwood is part of a couple of coalitions, one being the Sustainable Furnishings Council and the other being the Urban Wood Network, which has a western chapter that both of us belong to. With the SFC, it’s a coalition of like-minded people where they guide themselves by certain rules including how they source material, their practices, their sustainability, their carbon footprint, and more. One member is Green Builder Media. They reached out to Deadwood asking if they were interested in showcasing some of their furniture at one of their VISION homes.
Mariposa Meadows is located in Colorado in the San Juan National Forest. It’s an off-grid, sustainable, low impact three buildings that exhibit cutting-edge green technology and building techniques. Green Builder reached out to Deadwood to provide furniture as it’s compatible with the story of the rest of the elements of these buildings.
Green Builder focuses on green building practices and techniques. Everything they do is super measured, be it their materials, a net zero building that produces its own electricity, the carbon footprint, the impact of the home, and more. They put out several publications and put on events. One thing they also do is the VISION Home Project. VISION Homes are exhibition homes all around the country.
Building in a forest means they have to honor and respect the land. Deadwood loves that. They are taking over one of the buildings called the Atrium Duet. This building has two living spaces joined by one common atrium. Deadwood does everything live edge. But what they have noticed is that live edge is a niche market. If you are trying to reach a broader audience, sometimes you need to get out of the niche. They decided they will create pieces that will showcase urban lumber in a more traditional way for one side of the building, and the other side will feature furniture with live edge.
Deadwood reached out to us asking us to donate the wood required for this project, thinking we would be the perfect partners for this. Of course, we agreed!
The Deadwood Design Process
Collaboration is key! When Pepe began to design the live edge end table, it was a collaboration between Mitch and himself. They went through different base designs, screen cover designs, and more. It’s all about creating variations until you hone in and find the one that speaks to you. What’s even cooler is when you add 3D modeling! With 3D rendering, by adding material textures and shadows, you can see what a piece can potentially be once it’s built.
In total, they are building 12 pieces for Mariposa Meadows: two king beds, two dining tables, two end tables, two dressers, two nightstands, a base, and more. They’re using sycamore, redgum eucalyptus, and elm from us. From the Sacramento Tree Foundation, they are using redwood and elm rescued from Dutch elm disease.
This next piece is an open steel tube frame. There are no side panels aside from the waterfall edge. One side is shorter than the other, making it gravitate toward one side. A second iteration of this design has side panels that block your view from the side and makes the focal point a tunnel.
The Furniture Story
One of Deadwood’s strong suits is building highly custom furniture for people. When they are potentially investing in an heirloom piece, Deadwood wants them to get a feel for what they are getting in the rendering. In the design process, Deadwood often sends them iterations back and forth so that they become part of the build. It’s all about creating a connection between nature and the client who will ultimately own that nature for themselves.
For example: One time, a client called them to tell them they had an oak tree growing through their roof. The house was designed around this tree. But this tree is impacted and has become a hazard tree. The homeowner had been so used to this oak tree that they wanted a piece of the oak tree forever. Deadwood made a table for them from the oak. Through the process, they were updating this client with videos and pictures, asking them to pick out the slabs and make cuts.
While working on custom one-off furniture is fantastic and they love working one on one with clients, those pieces do take a long time, which slows down their overall impact. Because of this after they complete their 12 pieces for Mariposa, they want to begin to produce furniture lines that are available to the public in order to have a larger impact. I can relate to this. I used to do one-off chainsaw carvings, which were super cool, but you can have a bigger impact by producing larger-scale projects.
In this “disposable society,” furniture from IKEA and Target can serve a purpose, but you won’t have that thing forever. Deadwood wants to stop that and show that there is a way to become closer to nature through your furniture.
Taking it to the next level
One special thing Deadwood does, (which is incredibly labor-intensive) is that you can bear witness to the story itself. They will make a hidden compartment with a USB drive that contains the story of the tree. They provide the story of the log, where it came from, why it came down. They also record the process of the build and give it to the editor to piece together.
They know not everyone has a computer so they want to develop a QR code, that will be engraved into the piece of furniture so you can approach the piece, scan it with your phone, and find out everything about the furniture right there.
Biophilic design is a term often used in interior design, architecture, and construction. It’s adding natural features into a product build. They can be water features, living walls, different wood accents, etc. Studies have been done that show a positive effect on the wellbeing of people from spending time in spaces that have natural features in them. For Deadwood, biophilic design means utilizing urban lumber.
- Yesterday, Daniel was watching a David Attenborough documentary. He said in this current moment, we are drifting further apart from nature, but instead we need to become a part of nature. But it also talked about how people are super invested in taking care of our planet right now.
This year, Deadwood received a Cal Fire Grant through the California Climate Initiative. It is for a greenhouse gas reduction fund. Deadwood partnered with ECOSLO, a nonprofit that focuses on amazing environmental advocacy initiatives, and two universities, Cal Poly and North Carolina State University on a project called Full Circle: A Sustainable Approach to Urban Lumber. A closed loop system is all the way from seed to sawdust. Full Circle is about managing forests in a more sustainable way that will also help create local jobs.
Full Circle will have diversion and milling efforts as well as planting efforts. They are also focused on confidence in urban lumber as a building material in an attempt to get urban lumber mass adopted. A barrier to this mass adoption is the lack of standardization and quality control.
NC State has been teaching a kiln drying course for over 50 years, so Deadwood is going to teach workshops to adapt this course into the urban lumber industry. Deadwood will also be going into local high schools and universities’ woodworking classes to teach all about urban lumber.
They are planting species that are specifically good for end of life use. Matt Ritter and the bio department at Cal Poly is helping them select the appropriate species, and I can attest that Matt has an incredible species knowledge.
That’s it for this episode of Stay Dusty! Make sure to check out our tour of the Daniel gave us an awesome tour of the Deadwood Revival space and connect with Deadwood and us across social media platforms.
Until next time, stay dusty my friends!
- Daniel on LinkedIn
- Deadwood Revival Design on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn
- Green Builder Media
- Granberg Alaskan Mill
- California Urban Forest Council
- Sustainable Furnishings Council
- Sacramento Tree Foundation
- Cal Fire Grant