We had the good fortune of connecting with William Stranger and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi William, can you talk to us a bit about the social impact of your business?
I started working with wood 33 years ago and it quickly became clear to me that living trees were more important in the world than another table or chair. From that point on I have made sure that my work has as little impact on the environment as possible. Today, with climate change an ever increasing threat to life as we know it, it is more important than ever to preserve the world’s forests as a carbon capturing mechanism and a refuge for biodiversity. To that end, I use as much wood as possible that is salvaged or recycled. My primary source of material is local urban salvage. Trees that are blown over or cut down due to disease or construction are milled on site or at the arborist’s yard. The wood is then stickered and air dried. The final step prior to fabrication may be a month or two in a local solar powered kiln. This process allows the use of unique wood that would otherwise be wasted and keeps trees out of the landfill. Other sustainable materials include F.S.C. certified sustainably harvested lumber, scrap wood and steel left over from the fabrication process, reclaimed wood from demolished buildings and construction sites. I use a zero v.o.c. plant based oil for finishing and water based zero v.o.c. adhesives. I make furniture in small batches using as much handwork as possible. In this way I ensure not only the quality and durability of the work but also a high material yield. The large skylight in our shop allows me to work by natural light in the summer. I also recycle off-cuts into accessories such as cutting boards and vases. Sawdust is saved for use as mulch in a local organic garden. Scrap is donated to schools and other artists. In the office I use 100% recycled paper, reuse scrap paper, and recycle wastepaper and packaging. The material sourcing and fabrication process I use allows me to produce furniture and cabinetry that has a small initial environmental impact and will last well so that the additional impact of unnecessary obsolescence is avoided.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My favorite projects involve taking a tree that is dead or being cut down and turning it into a piece of furniture that then returns to the place where the tree grew. I love the completion that this brings to the lifecycle of the tree and the happiness I see in peoples eyes when a part of their life is returned to their home. The process of cutting, milling, and drying a tree can be time consuming and expensive. Over the course of my career the awareness of the possibility of urban salvage has steadily grown. When I started this kind of work, it was hard to convince people that it was worth the effort to save a log. An expanding understanding of the environmental importance of trees and a desire for unique and personal handcrafted furniture has helped. Some of the most challenging projects include taking backyard trees and turning them into kitchen cabinets. Sometimes this involves using live edge sycamore slabs as shelves, countertops or end panels. It can also involve fabrication of entire cabinets from salvaged deodar cedar. It can be particularly rewarding to make pieces for public places. Every time I visit Descanso Gardens in La Canada I am happy to see the desk and benches I made from a coast live oak that grew on the site of the new gallery.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My favorite spot in LA isn’t actually in LA but if a friend was visiting for a week I would definitely plan a trip to Deep Creek. I try to get to the hot springs beside a cold, rushing stream in the high desert foothills of the San Bernadino National Forest a few times a year. Another favorite spot that I would be sure to take them to is the hike to the abandoned gold mine at Millard Canyon in the foothills above Altadena. A trip to the ocean would be crucial. I love the beach at Abalone Cove in Palos Verdes, with it’s steep cliffs and tide pools. If there was a good band playing we could hit one of the great small music venues in LA, such as the Echo on Sunset Blvd or the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Assuming that this visit is post pandemic, that is. Same goes for restaurants. Yangs Kitchen in Alhambra is the best fresh local Chinese in the city and I can’t wait for them to open for dining. In the meantime, I buy groceries and takeout from them. I also made the built ins and cabinetry for this restaurant that not only serves great food but is also socially and environmentally responsible. This summer we teamed up to make and sell unique cutting and serving boards to benefit the movement for black lives. Maybe also brunch at Seed in Pasadena, and soft serve green tea ice cream at Tea Master in Little Tokyo.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The Soul of a Tree by George Nakashima. My wife gave me this book on the eve of the installation of my first cabinet job in 1987. The book, and seeing Nakashima’s 1990 Full Circle show in Los Angeles has had a huge influence on my work and career.
Alison Yin, Carel Struycken