Turning your pastime into your profession is something most of us only dream about. But for Recycled Brooklyn, transforming the unloved artifacts of Brooklyn’s old buildings into contemporary furniture turned that dream into a reality.
Housed inside a former shipbuilding factory, just a block east of the Red Hook waterfront in New York City, is Recycled Brooklyn: a family-run design and fabrication shop specializing in bespoke upcycled furniture.
After dabbling with carpentry in their free time, and filling their apartment with self-made fixtures, the company owners, brothers Matt and Steve Loftice, got their first commission – a simple desk made from discarded plumbing pipes and an old door.
After that the duo were hooked. They quit their jobs and quickly found other ways to turn unloved lumber into tables, chairs and wardrobes.
We visited their sprawling workshop to get the lowdown on life scouring builders' yards, the beauty of Brooklyn, and the best part of going into business with your brother.
Timberland: How did Recycled Brooklyn get started?
Matt: We’ve been making stuff for ourselves for a long time. If we needed shelving, we’d go get concrete blocks and some old wood and just make it. It’s in our nature to 'do-it-yourself'. Back in 2010 we decided to throw a couple things online and see if people would react. Luckily they did. We blew up immediately.
Steve: We didn’t have a shop – we were working in the kitchen. So we’d be making dinner and building tables at the same time.
Timberland: What’s it like working together?
M: Working together is great, but it’s not always easy! [laughs]
S: There are times when we both think we’re right, and because we’re brothers we can fight. It makes it more difficult to make decisions sometimes, but at the end of the day we always work it out.
Timberland: How would you describe your furniture?
S: As far as design goes, it’s the modern stuff that we love. It’s all organic. It’s concrete, steel and wood. That’s what we’re about.
Timberland: How does Brooklyn influence your craft?
S: It influences it a lot. Brooklynites are conscientious of the environment, and they’re also interested in learning – which is great for our business.
M: The other thing is that cities lend themselves to urban renewal. All these buildings are being renovated or coming down, and all this material is just going into the trash. That lends itself to what we do.
S: Being in Brooklyn also helps us design. We live here, so we start by asking ourselves, "What do I want? What do I need? I have a small apartment, it’s New York City, I need storage" – so we came up with the storage trunk.
M: I really like the idea that we’re using Brooklyn materials, and we’re doing it all locally. We love Brooklyn. We love being here. We don’t want to leave. We hope people know that what we’re doing is to help the community, help the people around us, help keep wood out the landfill, and to keep the story of Brooklyn, and its history, alive.
Timberland: Where do you get your materials?
M: When we started we’d pick stuff up off the streets. We’d find doors, windows, ceiling tins, beams, metal scraps. It was literally just lying there. Now we’re so busy that we get a lot of material from contractors. They know to call us rather than haul stuff to the trash.
A restaurant in the West Village recently commissioned us to make them a table but the 100-year-old beams we were using didn’t quite fit the client’s aesthetic.
At the same time a brownstone with pine floors on our block was being demolished. We walked 100 yards from our workshop, took a bunch of the wood out of the dumpster, put together this table, and the client lost her mind. She said it was the greatest, most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
Timberland: Why do you think upcycling has become so popular in recent years?
M: I think people are becoming more conscientious and aware of what we’re doing to the planet. Other countries have been upcycling for years. When I was 5 or 6 years old I’d never even heard of recycling. The only reason someone would turn in an aluminum can was to get some money, not because they didn’t want it going into [NYC’s] East River.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could have walked across the East River at one time - there was so much garbage in it. I think we’ve all slowly woken up to the fact that it’s no longer feasible to consume and throw stuff away.
Timberland: How would you describe your personal style?
M: Everything I own I wear to work. It’s got to be durable, and it’s got to be functional. It’s got to last through the rough and tumble because we’re not easy on our clothes.
S: Actually, the first pair of boots I owned were a pair of Timberlands. The shop was flooded all the time and it was a nasty business, but that pair of boots lasted me forever.
Timberland: What does The Modern Trail mean to you?
S: I think with everything there’s a standard of how to do something. There’s an idea that if you don’t do it a certain way you’re not going to succeed. I don’t believe in that, certainly Matt doesn’t believe in that, and Recycled Brooklyn as a whole doesn’t believe in that.
People have been building furniture for thousands of years and there’s always a new way to do something. We’re making our own trail. We’re making our own path.
M: For us, the The Modern Trail is breaking the mold. At Recycled Brooklyn, we can adapt to styles, trends, and locations. We provide something that people will always need and want, but we’re only going to get out of it what we put into it.
To find out more about Recycled Brooklyn and see the Winter Wool Collection in action, check out the third issue of our Guide to the Modern Trail.