I had the pleasure of speaking with Ross Graveling, manager of The Custom Cottage, last week. The Custom Cottage is a Grand Rapids manufacturer that designs and builds custom furniture from locally sourced wood. Each piece is built by hand, by a craftsmen at the Grand Rapids or Milwaukee location.
Over the course of a year, Sanford House has restored a second addiction treatment center for men, Sanford House at John Street. And from the start, we have been intentional in our approach to historical restoration. Project Manager Alec Green selected artisans and craftsmen who reflected the beauty of Heritage Hill and the power of the Grand Rapids community. As a result, most businesses on the construction site were family owned and based out of West Michigan.
The Custom Cottage employs members of the Grand Rapids community who are “starting new.” According to Graveling, “This can be due to an addiction, legal issues… some guys are returning from active duty. But each member of our team is working towards positive change. And we give them a place to work and work on themselves.” In this way, The Custom Cottage employees leave the position with hope.
The Custom Cottage was founded by Coleman Moore. Graveling recounts, “After moving to the Grand Rapids area, a friend told me about The Custom Cottage. I visited the warehouse. Then, Coleman and I ended up talking for over 2 hours. We both knew this was where I needed to be. This is the work I’m passionate about. I think Coleman could sense that.”
The workroom inside The Custom Cottage is loud. Industrial. Creative. As an artist, those kinds of environments energize me. It was exciting to watch Graveling’s team cut, assemble, and make new.
Graveling graciously allowed me to inspect and explore. And he was patient as I asked questions and peeked around corners. “All of the wood in this room is from Michigan,” Graveling told me. “We use a lot of Ambrosia (or Wormy Maple). It’s the one with the zebra pattern.” Wood from an Ambrosia Maple is covered in deep stripes and grooves caused by insect holes. So, when the tree repairs itself, it leaves behind beautiful, charcoal gray scars.
The Restoration Process
The Custom Cottage created custom furniture pieces for Sanford House at John Street, These included beds, nightstands, desks, and tables. After seeing their work online, Alec Green contacted The Custom Cottage to discuss ideas for Sanford House’s new location. Graveling reflects, “As soon as we met and started talking about the project… the type of work our companies did… we knew instantly it was a perfect match. The entire restoration process at John Street aligned with our mission.”
The furniture piece that has received the most attention is the enormous wooden table in the dining room. It seats 20. In addition to its handsome form, the table was built with function in mind. It opens in the center, offering additional seating for an overflow of guests. And the tabletop is treated to withstand temperatures up to 205 degrees. It was designed to wear, warmly and beautifully, as its used by clients for years to come.
These pieces are simple in design, and complement the existing style of the historic home on John Street. Additionally, The Custom Cottage created each piece to maximize space, utility, and comfort. The bed frames, for example, were made specifically for the bedrooms at Sanford House; drawers are located beneath the mattress to provide storage for clothes, and configured as not to interfere with the placement of the nightstands. The frames are universal, so they can be moved throughout the house if needed. (For more photos of our facilities, visit our gallery page here.)
The Compelling Character of Discarded Wood
According to Graveling, “Many of our employees come from a broken past. Many folks have had difficulty finding work. Building furniture at The Custom Cottage provides an opportunity to learn a skill… spend time productively… and gain confidence.” The majority of the hiring process happens by word of mouth. This isn’t surprising. The mission of The Custom Cottage is compelling.
The Custom Cottage uses wood other manufacturers would typically discard. The team rehabs these pieces until they’re ready to be used. And the final product retains the character and beauty of “unwanted wood.” Like the furniture itself, the company is built on the philosophy that everyone deserves a second chance.
The metaphors of rehab and restoration aren’t lost on Graveling: “We do more than just build furniture. We’re giving meaning, purpose, and value to those who need it. This work is redemptive.” Sanford House is proud to have partnered with The Custom Cottage.
The Custom Cottage is located at 1642 Broadway Avenue NW in Grand Rapids. They can be contacted via their website, www.customcottage.org