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Meet the Makers Series: What We Make

Feb. 26, 2020Furniture is one of those categories that seems to avoid the type of environmental scrutiny other areas of our homes receive. While our household cleaners, closets, and offices receive the greener treatment, the larger objects we interact with, like our bathroom vanities, dining room tables and chairs, and consoles often don’t get a second thought.



But whether they’re hand-me-downs or purchased from a major chain, your furniture could pose a hazard to your well-being and the environment. How? Let’s start with the wood. Depending on what that new piece of furniture is made from, your new dresser or side table could have contributed to deforestation. But even if you’ve purchased secondhand or received a hand-me-down item, you may have something else to worry about: volatile organic compounds.

Volatile Organic Compounds, otherwise known as VOCs, hang out in paints, lacquers, solvents, wood preservatives, glues, and other common household materials and consumer products. VOCs are released into the air in common ways, like burning fuel, coal, or natural gas, but they’re also released from these consumer products. This is known as “off-gassing.” Off-gassing is incredibly common and can even happen with mattresses, which is why it’s so important that Avocado mattresses don’t off-gas — and this all too common occurrence could have major health implications, like headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue (to name a few). 

Avocado Green Reclaimed Wood Collection

This is why it’s so important that we create mattresses from natural, organic materials and our furniture from reclaimed, eco-friendly wood. It is also our goal to lift up other craftspeople who are working to offer a healthier, safer, and beautiful alternative to the status quo, like Algonquin, Illinois-based furniture makers, What We Make.

Founded in 2013, What We Make is helmed by the Quinn family from start to finish — from production, to visual marketing, to management. Utilizing repurposed and recycled materials, the team behind What We Make creates the kind of furniture that’s rare these days — furniture made to last a lifetime and beyond. The kind of furniture created with the purpose of being handed down. But these stunning pieces aren’t just pleasing to the eye. They’re also far better for you and the environment, too, thanks to their mission to repurpose materials — like old barn board — while utilizing VOC-free finishes. The results are unique blends of modern and industrial furnishings with just the right amount of rustic warmth. In short, pieces that blend beautifully into any type of home.

We caught up with Dan Quinn, co-owner of What We Make to learn more about the company and how furniture came to be the family business.

 

#1—How would you describe What We Make furniture? 

D: We are a finely crafted, handmade furniture company that specializes in heirloom-quality reclaimed wood furniture. Founded in 2013, we started with a focus on reclaimed wood pieces as we love the character and beauty of the wood. It was important to us to work with sustainable materials and use non-toxic finishes. You can’t beat reclaimed wood from a sustainability standpoint, and our finish is a perfect complement to the wood!  

 
 

#2—What We Make is very much a family-run business. Does woodworking run in the family? 

D: We are a family business through and through. There are five Quinn’s working at What We Make, including my wife, Katy, who does our visual/marketing, my brother’s wife, Jamie, who manages production, and my brother, George, who manages our shop. 

My dad was a contractor who owned his own business, so we grew up working with our hands. My brother started making furniture about 15 years ago for friends and family. When my wife started looking to furnish our first place, we wanted reclaimed wood pieces. The pieces we were finding were very rough and rustic looking, so I talked with my brother about making some pieces for us out of reclaimed wood. We went through the process of finding barn wood, kiln drying it, finding a nice non-toxic/VOC-free finish, and he went to work. We took pictures of the pieces and posted them on Facebook and people started asking if we could make some pieces for them — and What We Make was born.

 

#3—Why is working with reclaimed materials important to you and your family?  

D: We love the sustainability of reclaimed wood and the beauty of how years have aged the wood. Most of the barn wood we work with is over 200 years old and already has a natural beauty that you cannot get from milled wood. Every piece has a story and is completely unique!

 
 

#4—Besides the focus on reuse, what sets What WE Make furniture apart from the rest? 

D: Our craftsmanship is second to none. We are truly focused on making pieces that will last longer than we will and we make more than tables —we have pretty much made everything at this point! Customers and designers love us as we can make most anything any size. We have customers that furnish their entire home with WWM pieces.

 

#5—Do you have a favorite piece you’ve made, either custom or part of your available line?

D: Our main cabinet maker, Bill O’Reilly, just made an awesome reclaimed oak bathroom vanity with a black concrete top. The combination of the beauty of the reclaimed wood with the stark black concrete top really stuck with me. It was a timeless piece and truly one of a kind.

 

#6—How does your location, Illinois, play into what you’re creating? 

D: Our shop is located in Algonquin, which is about an hour outside of Chicago. There are a ton of barns near our shop including our first shop, which was in a barn in Hampshire, Illinois.

#7—What’s next for What We Make? 

D: We have a ton of great projects coming up! As more designers find our work, we are doing all kinds of interesting projects for commercial spaces, which continue to push our creative boundaries.

Our main initiative is focusing on is growing WWM in a sustainable way. We never want to grow past the point where we are not personally invested in each piece we make. What We Make makes us who we are! 

Thank you so much for speaking with us, Dan! Visit What WE Make online and follow them on Facebook and Instagram!

Julie O'Boyle

By Julie O'Boyle

 —  Julie O'Boyle is a freelance writer and content strategist with a background in fashion and DIY and a devotion to the outdoors and functional nutrition. Currently residing in the woods of Maine, when she's not writing you can find her at the beach or on a mountain, or otherwise getting her hands dirty.

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