The Art of Reclaimed Materials


My parents had an antique store up the street on Killingsworth and Michigan for over twenty years. When I came back to Portland in 2000, after living in Chicago for a while, I worked at their store helping fix furniture. I was at the ReBuilding Center all the time for materials, you know, getting in the way and bothering everyone. After the antique store closed in 2007, I started looking for work. I had gotten to know many people at the ReBuilding Center—Tom, Shane, Ella Rose, Angel. They were looking for another Salvage Specialist and encouraged me to apply. Eventually I did. There was an interview, and I started working just a few days later.

I knew how the ReBuilding Center worked. I had the knowledge and carpentry skills. I fit the bill. For many years, I worked as a Salvage Specialist. I always enjoyed being out front the most. Working with the public has always been enjoyable to me. We didn’t have much of a volunteer department back then, but we started to work with groups to de-nail in the empty lot over behind Grand Central. I was asked to assist at the site, and eventually the job stuck. Our temp sites moved all over, but I stayed the Volunteer Site Supervisor for four or five years. When I wasn’t busy working with volunteer groups, I would work in the store. It took a while, but eventually I found a good balance between the two.

Bookends built by Pete

Bookends built by Pete

I was kind of already doing process improvements at that time, but it was never structured until recently. By thinking things out more, it enables us to make everyone’s experience better. Being involved with all the different projects over time has been really enjoyable. I don’t want the easy way out—I like details. It doesn’t have to be spectacular, but if you put some time and creativity into a project, people will appreciate it. Any of the materials we get can fit what you are doing. It’s all about how you put it to use. There’s an art aspect to it, and I truly enjoy that. For someone like me, working at the ReBuilding Center is just perfect. The work we do gives me a sense of accomplishment when I get home.

Being a native Portlander, I’ve seen the city transform. It isn’t just me being old and stubborn—things have really changed. There are the Mississippi Avenue issues, the increased cost of living, and all that. There’s a limit to growth, but I’m not sure what that looks like for us. I think if we stick to it, we can stay where we are. Where else is there to go? My advice to the ReBuilding Center is to take everything with a grain of salt—things aren’t personal. So many different people come in and out and they’re all different. There will always be challenges, but I try to take things day by day and not to carry any bad along with me. This can be hard to maintain, but in order to keep doing what we do, we have to work on being a continued example of how to be respectful and community centered.

When thinking of the future of the ReBuilding Center, I am really excited about our education efforts. There are always people that come here who work on homes or flip houses, but it is also about involving those that aren’t already plugged in to that type of work. It is part of our job in the store to not only point to where the materials are, but also to have conversations about the materials and projects—to teach and advise when we can. That is why I am so excited about the Education Program. There are so many opportunities available. I realize it takes time for things to grow, but the education team has done a great job so far.

People can limit themselves in what they see, but our efforts can help people see a piece of wood, or whatever it is, differently. My goal is to make our community excited about reclaimed materials in a way that haven’t been before. We may stress about this and that, but our mission is continuing—we are doing what we are here to do.

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