Artisan shop with a re-purpose: Detroit store to sell furniture made from vacant homes

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This furniture is not only made in Detroit, it’s made from Detroit.

A new store opening today in the Motor City is putting materials salvaged from Detroit's abandoned homes to good use by repurposing it for made-to-order furniture. Called “Workshop,” the store will be open through the holidays selling benches, tables, and other home goods in a pop-up location in the city’s Fisher Building. Most items will be made to customer specifications, but the showroom currently houses seven items--four benches and three tables--all made from the wood of an abandoned home located on the far West Side of the city.

“It’s more about filling a need,” Workshop co-founder James Willer told  “Nothing is as important in my mind as dealing with these abandoned houses.

"We feel it’s critical that all this material is put to good use.”

This is not Willer’s first foray into the reclamation of the decaying homes in Detroit. He was one of the original founders of a group called Reclaim Detroit, which since 2011 has sought out to salvage materials from nearly 80,000 abandoned homes  in the beleaguered city through a process dubbed deconstruction.

Deconstruction is a relatively recent urban planning trend in which a structure is carefully and systematically dismantled with the intent of saving the most useable materials for future use.

“We are turning the page here in Detroit,” Jeremy Haines, who currently heads Reclaim Detroit told “There is a flipside to the blight. There’s a stockpile of materials.”

“It’s an opportunity to do something positive. We are helping to bring industry back to the city,” he added.

In the wake of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, Detroit is rebranding itself as the DIY, or do-it-yourself, City, with projects such as urban farms, small businesses selling locally made products, and residents pitching in to handle municipal upkeep. Reclaim Detroit and Workshop are firmly entrenched in this new ethos among the locals, who are committed to bringing Detroit back from the brink.

Willer hopes that Workshop will grow and provide opportunities for development as well as job growth.

“I have a feeling that we will be growing fast,” he said, adding that Reclaim Detroit will be supplying them with more reclaimed wood from two more deconstructed houses.

Proponents of Deconstruction claim that it is financially beneficial to a municipality to repurpose the materials.

"I consider it a natural resource and asset right at our front door,” Willer said.

Willer says that it is the main motivation for starting projects like Reclaim Detroit and Workshop.

“I’m not looking for a pat on the back,” he said. “I’m looking for the city to spend money the right way.”