Three years ago, Mitchell Alexander worked at a furniture restoration shop in Raleigh, while Theodore Feaster looked for a way out of his exhausting job in property management.
The two did not know each other and never would have dreamed that one day they would spend their days together running Refab Wood Recyclery, a custom furniture business that tears down old barns and transforms the wood into durable, heirloom-quality furniture.
Now, that’s what they do on a daily basis.
While making deliveries for his former restoration shop with co-worker Cameron Credle, Alexander started noticing dilapidated barns and wanted to do something with the abandoned wood.
In April 2012, Credle and Alexander made $5,500 building a commercial bar for their boss. That project motivated the pair to take a shot at re-purposing wood and designing their own furniture by using the money they made from building the bar to help jumpstart the new business.
Alexander, 25, quit his job and used Craigslist, Etsy, family and friends to spread the word about his search for old barns and his ability to create custom furniture.
He set up shop in the basement of his home, which is tucked behind N.C. State University, and relied mostly on the tools he had inherited from his grandfather.
Credle left Refab in early 2013 but Alexander continued to slowly expand, building and delivering furniture for clients around the Triangle.
That spring, Feaster interviewed for an apprenticeship after seeing a Craigslist ad Alexander posted.
“I didn’t know a thing about woodworking,” Feaster said. “But as soon as I saw what Mitch was doing and the wood he was using, I fell in love.”
The two, now partners, have deconstructed four collapsed structures – mostly Johnston Country tobacco barns. It can take up to four weekends to tear down a barn and get the wood back to the shop.
Refab removes barns for free in exchange for the wood, which is sometimes more than 250 years old, and includes Old Growth pine, Douglas Fir, Southern Yellow and Long Leaf pine.
For projects that are more modern, they source hardwood from local companies.
The pair typically find property owners through Cragislist, and some reach out to Refab.
About 50 percent of Refab’s sales come from its online Etsy shop, while others come from its website, Facebook, Craigslist and word of mouth.
Prices depend on labor and materials. Products on the Etsy site range from $200 for a mantle to $1,500 for a rustic farm table to $7,500 for a handmade pool table. Alexander designs the pieces using 3-D computer software.
They’ve had about 150 customers, and their team can turn out up to 10 projects a month, depending on complexity.
“When you think about building a dining table, that’s a lot,” Alexander said.
It’s hard for Alexander and Feaster to part with their craftsmanship, but Alexander said watching customers get excited when receiving their orders “softens the blow.”
“Every piece is my favorite,” Feaster said.