Taking “Upcycling” to the Next Level: Couple Breathes New Life into Abandoned Furniture

By Matt Minich

Everything about Matthew and Danelle Britt’s studio seems recycled. Tucked into a shed off of North College Avenue, the workshop is filled with well-used equipment and an eclectic assortment of materials. A stack of metal tabletops rests against one wall; about a dozen schoolroom desks are piled against another. These are the materials for Wool Hat, a budding local business that crafts artisanal furniture from Fort Collins’ leftover junk.

Matthew, a blonde-haired, bearded thirty-something who is still wearing flip-flops in mid-December, describes his creations as “pre-apocalyptic reconstructionist.” That’s a feat of linguistic gymnastics he employs to avoid the word “Bohemian,” which makes him visibly uncomfortable.

Like it or not, however, there’s something very Bohemian about what Matthew and Danelle are doing with Wool Hat. The business is built on the idea that the objects that people surround themselves with in their everyday lives should be unique crafts with unique histories.

They call their process “upcycling.” Each piece of Wool Hat furniture is made from about 80 percent recycled materials – whether that means parts of old tables and chairs or the floor of a high school basketball court. Some of their materials are their own, but the rest they hunt down at auctions, yard sales, or anywhere else wood and metal bits are sold or given away.

“I think the story is the biggest part,” Matthew said. “That’s how you decide what a piece should be.”

That’s not a traditional approach to material gathering, but it seems to be working. Since Matthew and Danelle started selling their furniture in March of last year, their business has steadily grown. In the next six months, they plan to open their own retail location in the North College district. Whether or not the store goes boom or bust, they both say they don’t plan to grow far from their roots.
“We’re sourcing it locally, so it needs to stay local,” Danelle said of the Wool Hat business plan.

The furniture is made for people who want to get as many of the items they use in daily life from their communities. The same people who prefer locally-owned restaurants to chains, or the farmers’ market to the grocery store.

Self-described “Old Town rats,” Matthew and Danelle are catering to a growing market of up-and-coming, socially-conscious Fort Collins townies.

“People stay here because they want to stay here,” Matthew said. “Most of us are ‘outcast’ enough to make it to Fort Collins, but not quite enough to go all the way to Portland.”

The sarcastic humor of the ‘outcast’ is a clear element of the Wool Hat style. Hanging on the wall of the studio is a poster of a Black Angus cow framed by recovered barn siding. The only text on the poster is the word “Angus,” which appears in a large Western font. Asked about his dream project, Matthew had an answer ready without skipping a beat.

“I want to build a Postmodern gun rack,” he said. “I mean, what would that even look like?”

Wool Hat furniture is currently available through the Factory MADE store in Boulder. They plan to open their North College location before June 2012. Find them on Facebook to learn more!

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