Nothing warms my heart quite as much as a creative person making his or her own way through the world. Which is why I was keen to talk with Sean Desiree, a self-taught furniture maker (and musician!) in Albany. Desiree is committed to using reclaimed materials -- primarily leftover wood pallets -- to create tables, bookcases, and other pieces.
I caught up with her recently to talk with her about her business, South End Pallet Works, and how she got started...
Why did you get started making pallet furniture? What inspired you?
It came about through my desire to have a farm table. It was far too expensive for me to buy one, so I decided to take a chance in making one. Through my search I learned about people using pallets to make furniture. I looked at a few pictures of designs and went for it. The result was great.
Where did you learn your skills? Did you grow up with woodworking experience?
When I was around 11 years old my father lost his job and to supplement his income he began making furniture and clothes. He never taught me, but I think just seeing him do it influenced my understanding of what I knew I was capable of creating myself and it certainly inspired me.
Since making my first table I have taken a few classes at The Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy. The info helped me get a grasp of basic furniture making techniques and how to properly use the tools. Also, I am considering getting an MFA in furniture design to take my knowledge even further.
Where do you find the source material of pallets?
The people at F.W Webb Company and the Honest Weight coop have been really great about me taking pallets. I also use Craigslist to find spots where people are getting rid of pallets. I sometimes stumble upon ads for barn wood, which is a rare treat. When driving around the Capital District I always keep an eye out for wood.
How is working with pallets and reclaimed wood different from working with more traditional manufactured materials?
It definitely creates more of a challenge. The wood needs to be pried apart; there are nails, it may be uneven or partially broken. It takes some time to get it into the state that it comes in when you buy it from a lumberyard.
However, it's worth the work because most of that wood just gets thrown away and sits in our landfills. If we as a community decide to make just a little more effort by recycling or reclaiming materials it would drastically improve our environment.
Also, I come across all kinds of wood and some would be quite expensive to buy new.
Who do you sell most of your work to? Are your pieces custom designs or tried-and-true items?
I mainly sell through people on Etsy and friends. They are tried-and-true items, but the dimensions can be customized. I also work with people to come up with custom designs for tables. For Historic Albany Foundation's Built event last November I created a table featuring the columns on the NYS Education building.
What's next for your pallet business?
Having a professional wood shop would really transform my ability to make new and more intricate designs. There are a few more tools I would like to own, but it's a process. Right now I mainly do made-to-order projects, but I would like to start developing an inventory of items that I can sell at markets and shops.
It's important to me to try and share the knowledge I am gaining with people in my community. Once I have a shop people can visit, I want to conduct classes catering to women and youth.
One of your other creative pursuits is music. What do you have going on recently with that?
My other love is music. I'm a solo musician that performs under the name Bell's Roar. I just released my debut EP in June and am starting to play shows locally and nationally. My primary focus has been music and in the past it's been difficult pursuing that while trying to work a full-time job. Making furniture gives me the freedom to work independently and supplement my income.
This interview has been lightly edited.
Lauren writes about shopping, crafting, and living well on a small budget at The Thrifty Ginger.
overhead photo of low table via South End Pallet Works
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