Hudsonville-based Banyan Tree Fabworks is turning distinctive historical machinery into statement-furniture.
That includes a conference table built from an Oliver Machinery industrial table saw, a coffee table fashioned from a vintage International Harvester engine and a bar made atop the hood of a 1955 Cadillac.
The inspiration and elements of the company’s high-end furniture come from a desire to save relics of the American Industrial Age, according to Greg Davis, vice president of Banyan Tree Fabworks.
Obsolete industrial equipment is often cumbersome to recycle and landfills receive more than 10 million tons of steel each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hence, the increasing popularity of upcycling — turning by-products, waste materials or unwanted products into something of greater value.
“What we’re trying to do is just preserve some stuff because a lot of it just gets scrapped or crushed, melted down and recycled, which is wonderful, but we’re trying to preserve the history of some of these pieces,” Davis said.
However, the products produced by Banyan Tree Fabworks aren’t made from common yard sale finds. The company hunts down heavy-duty, often high-priced, industrial equipment from around the country and each part has its own character and flair, according to Davis.
“Some of these old industrial machines, pieces, articles, and awesome machinery — they have a function to them, but they also have form and more of an artistic component,” he told MiBiz. “We like to find things that are unique and interesting.”
Often the materials that intrigue the five-person team at Banyan Tree Fabworks lived past lives in the automotive industry. Most elements that the company uses in its tables, desks and other furniture pieces are from equipment.
“We got some gigantic bearings from a coal mining company,” he said. “Everybody has seen small bearings, but we’ve got some that are almost three feet in diameter. In some respects, it’s very, very basic things, but everything is on a much-magnified scale — and it’s just cool.”
One desk was made from a 650-pound industrial joiner that had been stored in a garage in a Boston suburb, according to Davis. Others, like the Cadillac bar, are made from the bulk of a vehicle body.
“Every piece has a funny story of how we came to acquire it,” he said.
The company makes strictly one-of-a-kind pieces and has no plans of becoming a high-volume producer, according to Davis.
“We want to keep it fun and not make it hard work,” he said.
One designer works with a crew of two builders to handcraft the products, but no one on the team has formal training, Davis said. They work out of a 25,000-square-foot fabrication facility and showroom that was originally designed as a prototyping shop to support the company’s affiliated business, Blue Banyan Equity, and its investment companies.
“When we started, we weren’t super busy with supporting the investment companies and we’ve got a couple of people that are very creative and talented at making stuff,” Davis said. “They started making a hodgepodge of things like tables made out of bulldozer track chain or woodworking equipment from old factories that made wooden furniture.”
This style of handcrafting and manufacturing comes with a hefty price tag. Individual pieces range from $2,000 for a “gear impeller” coffee table to more than $10,000 for big-ticket items.
“There are a lot of people that do what we call sweaty or patina pieces, and that means taking something that’s old and used up and just kind of dusting it off,” Davis said. “We have a high-quality finish. Everything we try to do is very meticulous on the details and in making sure everything is just right.”
The company is using trade shows and events like the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction, held every January in Scottsdale, Ariz., to get its furniture in front of the right audience.
“That (auction) is kind of our target because it (attracts) high net worth individuals,” Davis said. “There are people out there who have crazy money, and so dropping $5,000 or $10,000 on a piece of furniture is nothing to them.”
Banyan Tree Fabworks sold six pieces of furniture at the auction and caught the attention of some “very large designers” who work in commercial spaces, according to Davis.
“That’s always what we’ve been shooting for,” he said. “If we can sell a few pieces a month, that’s what we’d like to do.”