Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A California Native Crafts Sustainable Furniture in DUMBO

Bruce Marsh (above) started building furniture years ago when he wanted, but couldn’t afford, luxury pieces. He fondly recalls the first piece of high-end wood he ever bought, from a lumberyard in Berkeley.

“Sitting on the floor was this piece of mahogany,” he said. “It was absolutely the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”

Marsh purchased the wood shortly after and brought it home. “I put it in the middle of my living room. It became my coffee table — for about six months before I actually did anything with it,” he noted. “During that process, literally a day didn’t go by where I didn’t imagine or reconfigure that piece of wood into a hundred different things. When I finally did decide to make it into something, it became a table.”

Now, after what started out as a hobby became a business, that first table sits in Marsh’s DUMBO workshop.

Bruce Marsh Designs was established in 2006. At the same time, Marsh founded Moderntots, an “online retailer of modern design products for children.” But a year ago Marsh sold Moderntots to his business partner and “that’s when I really truly started getting serious about this business,” he added. “Now I’m totally in this.”

Marsh’s line of hardwood furniture is handcrafted and made-to-order. He’s designed tables, chairs, beds, bookshelves, even sushi plates. At this month’s BKLYN DESIGNS show, Marsh debuted a day bed made from rope strung across a wood frame (pictured above).

He characterizes his aesthetic as modern with Asian and Scandinavian influences. “I believe strongly in the beauty of the woods,” he explained. “I don’t need to carve intricate things into them to show somebody how beautiful they really are — simplicity is my goal.”

And with all his designs, Marsh keeps the environment in mind.

“I grew up in California. The California attitude to recycling is very different than the East Coast. We were doing it as kids, years ago,” he said. “I do this business with a very strong, eco/green mentality.”

The many factors that characterize his business as sustainable include rags instead of paper towels, water-based adhesives, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) or water-based finishes, no stains or veneers, and all stainless steel hardware.

More importantly, Marsh said all of the wood he uses is certified and comes from managed forests. Two months ago he stopped using imported wood. “There are so many beautiful woods in North America, why are we wasting all this fuel and emitting so much carbon into the air to ship these things halfway around the world?”

Instead, his woods come from within a 250-mile radius around his workshop, and he only orders as much as he needs. “I order exactly the amount of wood I need for the week’s projects that are beginning,” he explained.

Marsh’s designs are also long lasting. “Several pieces from the beginning of when I started making furniture — that are 10 or 12 years old — only show signs of normal wear, no signs of falling apart or degradation,” he said. “I have no idea how long they will last I’m not old enough to find out.”

Luxury Items With A Personal Touch
Since Marsh runs a small business (he only has two employees), he’s able to get to know some of his clients. “I pretty much meet every single one of my customers,” he said. “If you call for customer service, that’s me. It’s very personal, there’s a sense of flexibility and camaraderie and friendship.”

Many clients send Marsh pictures of his pieces in their homes, and occasionally, he delivers the furniture in person, which he likes because he gets to see the homes himself.

The idea of community and friendship is one of the reasons why Marsh loves Brooklyn. “My Brooklyn is DUMBO,” he says. Not only does he have his workshop there, he has also lived in the neighborhood. “It’s a small town, everybody knows everybody.”

As a photographer, Marsh loves DUMBO for another reason. “My absolute favorite thing is the view when you’re down by Brooklyn Bridge Park,” he says. “One of the best views of New York City, it’s absolutely gorgeous.”

Photo by Don Evans

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