Saturday in the City – Behind the Scenes at Tellus360 (Part 1)

Saturday in the City – Behind the Scenes at Tellus360 (Part 1)

Fine particles of sawdust float in the beams of sunlight coming through the high windows. The air vibrates to the whirr of an ancient Whitney planer as furniture-maker Josh Walton guides a thick slab of walnut lumber through.

Then he brushes the sawdust from his hands and greets us with a crinkly-eyed smile. “Welcome to the Tellus360 workshop.”

Irish-born Joe Devoy, the owner of Tellus360, has invited Bruce and me for a behind-the-scenes look at their process of reclaiming and recycling salvaged wood into beautiful, one-of-a-kind home furnishings.

We head outside first, where Joe points to a high stack of thick wooden beams and planks – some of their raw materials.

“We just got all this from an old barn that collapsed,” Joe tells us.

“We get wood from all over. Sometimes from an old warehouse or factory that’s being torn down. Or a grand old tree that’s stood for a hundred years, then came down in a storm. Wood siding, floorboards, wooden doors, gorgeous old bits and pieces from barns and homes – sometimes centuries old. The wood always has a story. I like to know where it came from, the history, yeah?”

It’s hard to keep up with Joe’s rapid-fire Irish accent, but his enthusiasm and passion for beautiful old wood is infectious. And his passion is for more than just the beauty of the wood.

“After years working in commercial construction, I wanted to find ways to be less wasteful, to do things in a better way,” Joe explains. “There’s been something like 3 trillion board feet of lumber cut from trees in the past century. Lots of it can be reclaimed and reused. Why cut down more trees to make things when we have all this lovely old wood to work with? It’s the ultimate in recycling and much better for the environment. Wood stands the test of time. That’s what we’re about at Tellus360: living and doing things in a simpler, better way.”

And the name, Tellus360? “Oh, right, well Tellus was an ancient Roman goddess who was concerned about the productivity of the earth. And 360 – that’s about coming full circle – back to a simpler life, back to using this beautiful old wood to make something new and simple and lovely.”

Josh leads us into the warehouse, to show us how that process of making something new and simple and lovely begins. The reclaimed wood is first sorted and stacked in neat piles.

“We sort it by species of wood,” Josh tells us. “We’ve got some walnut right here from a tree that the power company chopped down, white oak beams from a feed mill down in Maryland, cherry from a tree that fell on my shed earlier this year. We’ve got maple over there, some birch, red oak, hemlock . . .”

Joe chimes in. “Oh, we’ve got these absolutely great old white oak pilings and some greenheart wood from Boston Harbor. The pilings are probably a hundred years old, the salt of the sea pounding against them for years and years. They were holding up this grand old place called Jimmy’s Harborside. Been torn down now for a high-rise. But just look at this wood – isn’t it lovely?”

Josh explains the beginnings of their reclaiming process. “We pull out any nails that might be in the wood and save those to re-use them.” (he shows us a barrel full of old-fashioned cut nails) “Sometimes there are hinges, latches, that sort of thing – we might leave those on or take them off and save them, depending on what we’re going to make from the wood. Nothing goes to waste. We try to find ways to re-use everything.”

And they do mean EVERYTHING! They give any leftover scraps of wood that they can’t use to neighbors of their rural workshop to use as firewood. A local cattle farmer takes all of the sawdust they generate and uses it for bedding for his cattle and horses.

I spot a roll of wide sanding belts leaning against one wall, with a beautiful muted pattern of light and dark stripes from the different types of wood they’ve sanded.

“What will you do with those?” I ask.

“Ah, we power wash them and re-use them til there’s no grit left,” Joe says.

“They look like really cool floor runners,” I observe.

Joe’s face lights up and you can almost hear his mental gears turning. “Oh, right. We could put a bit of rubber backing on ‘em, cut ‘em to size . . . yeah, absolutely, we might have to give that a try.”

Joe’s creative energy is the heart of Tellus360. But, as he tells us, “I’ve got lots of good lads and lasses working with me. Josh of course, and Steve who makes our incredible guitars, and Suzy, here.” (Suzy Hoover has come along on the workshop tour with us) “And of course back at the store, we’ve got Mairtin (Lally), Annie (Schwartz), John (Fogarty) . . . Lucky to have lots of great people in this mad adventure.”

Josh points out the large kiln in the center of the warehouse – further proof of their commitment to creatively recycling and re-using everything.

“We made the kiln from a walk-in cooler from a Stop-n-Shop that was being torn down,” Joe explains.

Josh describes the two-year process from the time they get a supply of wood until it becomes a finished piece of furniture or decorative item.

“We let the wood air dry in whatever form we get it for 6 months or so. Some of it we’ll mill down and cut into slabs, and we let those dry for another 6 months. Sometimes the wood needs to go into the kiln for a month or two, then air dry some more.”

Then the creative visioning begins. Josh developed a love of the creative process from his mother, who did a lot of crafts as Josh was growing up. He went to school to learn the art of fine cabinet-making and worked for several local cabinet shops. Then he met Joe at Joe’s favorite hang-out, Annie Bailey’s, and Joe convinced Josh to come and work for him.

“I’m always trying to make the wood smooth and polished, and Joe’s always saying, ‘leave it a little more rustic’,” Josh explains with a laugh.

The knots and nail holes, cracks and rough edges add character galore and make every piece one-of-a-kind.

The wood might be used to make a simple bedside stand,

a formal dining room table

or a one-of-a-kind coffee table.

It might become an elegant hutch,

a rustic bench (shown here in the new Tellus360 Gallery – more about that in the next post)

or a unique bed.

They sell their reclaimed wood furniture, along with lots of eco-friendly and fair trade gifts, home decor and clothing, in the Tellus360 store at 24 East King Street in Lancaster (you can see photos of more of their furniture and everything else they sell on their website.)

“We’re getting more commercial orders now too,” Joe adds, “We’ve made conference room tables, and unique staircases or shelves for large specialty stores that wanted a different look for their retail space.”

In addition to furniture, they make smaller decorative items

like these lamps,

picture frames,

wine racks

and candle holders.

Even small bits of wood can be put to creative use, as in these one-of-a-kind hand-crafted guitars, built by one of Joe’s “lads”, Steve, and shown here being played by another of the Tellus360 lads at a terrific live music event (the inaugural “Tabletop Session”) held at Tellus360 this week, to kick off their first anniversary celebration.

The “Tabletop Session” event was just one example of something else Joe and the Tellus360 team are building in Lancaster: a community gathering place, a place to bring people together for music and art, for good living and good conversation. My next post will delve into this community-focused aspect of the Tellus360 mission.

In the meantime, take a few minutes to check out their website or better yet, pop into the store and see what all they’ve got going on. You’ll be glad you did.

(note: Bruce took most of the photos above – you can check out his Photoriety website & blog here)

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: city life lancaster pa sustainability arts&culture;

Next: Saturday in the City – Behind the Scenes at Tellus360 (Part 2)

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