|Whitney Wood Works fabricates kitchen cabinets with eco-friendly materials, including FSC-certified and reclaimed lumber.|
|The above kitchen features charcoal stained bamboo.|
Reclaiming Chicago Trees
Whitney Wood Works uses a number of green materials including FSC-certified products and reclaimed wood. Much of the local reclaimed wood comes from Horrigan Urban Forest Products Inc., located in Skokie, IL.
âBruce Horrigan recycles trees from the Chicago area that have died,â Parkinson explains. âNormally, a tree dies and an arborist takes it down and grinds it into mulch, and thatâs it. What he did â what his passion is â was to save those trees and use them for lumber. We can get a 100-year-old (board) because Bruce saved a tree and turned it into lumber.â
Currently, Parkinson says her shop is working on a walnut kitchen and a maple kitchen with recycled and reclaimed lumber from Horriganâs company. Not only does this material allow for the reuse of something that previously died, but âyou get a really beautiful piece of lumber out of it,â Parkinson says. âIt has a lot of character.â
Parkinson also uses recycled barn wood from American Barn Co. for her projects. âWe did a bench out of beautiful reclaimed timber from a barn for the Outpost Natural Food store,â she notes. However, Horrigan is her main supplier because he is local. Although plywood for Parkinsonâs cabinets comes from further away, it is still eco-friendly because it is formaldehyde-free.
âThis is good for us and it is good for our customers. Thatâs a standard thing we do, because the price difference is not significant using a formaldehyde-free board versus a standard board.â
Whitney Wood Works uses a variety of low-VOC finishes on its projects. Parkinson says that she has been using the products since she started her company, so she has a good sense of what works.
âI started early enough in the process that I was able to see the evolution of the low-VOC finishes and the quality of them,â she says. âThey are getting better all of the time. Weâve used everything from a water-based finish made by BioShield Paints or Safecoat to a good old-fashioned natural oil finish.â
Parkinson says that she prefers the oil varnish because it has a âbeautiful natural finish and you get a nice buildâ on the wood. However, it is not the most price-conscious choice, she warns, because it takes a longer time to dry. âBut it is a beautiful finish,â she notes again with a laugh.
Developing a Clientele
Whitney Wood Worksâ customers are primarily from the Chicago area and suburbs, with the occasional client from out of town.
âMost people who contact me have a concern about the environment or are concerned about their health,â Parkinson says. âThere are a lot of folks who have an environmental illness and need a cabinetmaker who can supply them with things that are not going to make them sick.â
Parkinson says that they have a great deal of experience dealing with chemically sensitive clients. She often tests materials with these clients by giving them small pieces of products to live with for a period of time to see if it negatively affects them.
Education is a key part of the process. According to Parkinson, when she initially talks to a client about a kitchen, she tells them how important it is to have the boxes made of formaldehyde-free plywood. âThe finishes will off-gas faster, but the boxes leech for a longer time, years,â she adds.
With the growth of the green movement, more companies are providing green products. However, the question of âWhat is green?â is being asked more frequently by companies and customers alike.
âEveryone is jumping in, and I think that people donât understand what green truly is,â Parkinson says. âA lot of people are saying that they are green, but they are not necessarily all that green. For instance, all of these folks coming out with bamboo doors â bamboo is a sustainable product, however, it is traveling from China to be here. You have to look at all sides of the equation. Certainly, I will do a bamboo kitchen for someone if they want it, but I always talk to people about âHow green do you want it to be?â because it can mean so many things to so many people.â
Although a lot of people are âjumpingâ into the market for a variety of reasons, Parkinson says that she still thinks that it is a good thing because they âare driving attentionâ to the market. Parkinson adds that her clientele tends to be well educated on green, âso they know that being green is also about buying local. Itâs about supporting small businesses; itâs about more than just a sustainable material that you can use.â
Green Processes in the Shop
Whitney Wood Worksâ shop is filled with what Parkinson calls âbasic stuff,â including a Powermatic table saw, a Powermatic panel saw and a Mini Max edgebander.
Parkinson purchased the table saw and panel saw over the first three years. She later added the edgebander when she learned that the âgreenest way to make cabinets is to make frameless cabinets. Why have the extra wood if you donât have to?â
Other elements of Whitney Wood Worksâ manufacturing process that are eco-friendly, besides fabricating frameless cabinets, include grinding and reusing waste, as well as using optimizing software to reduce waste.
|Whitney Wood Works fabricates high-end custom planter boxes for a Chicago-area green landscaper.|
Surviving the Downturn
The economy has proved challenging for many businesses, including Whitney Wood Works. One way Parkinson has dealt with this challenge is by working with another green company, Christy Webber Landscapes.
Parkinson became friends with Webber after working on her kitchen. âShe wanted a beautiful green kitchen and we got to know each other after that,â she says. âWhen my business began to slowdown, she said, âI could really use your help, and I would like you to make beautiful wooden products for my business.â It has worked out very well.â
Those âbeautifulâ wooden products include high-end planter boxes and outdoor furniture, which have become very popular.
Parkinson notes that fabricating outdoor furniture is âa challenge, because it has to hold up to the weather and be stable. Itâs not easy to have all of that and have a nice-looking product.â Yet, Parkinson says that she enjoys the work and has been able to make some really nice high-end custom pieces. She has not only researched various types of wood that are more sustainable outside, but she also has tried to translate the construction of interior woodwork to exterior wood.
âItâs been a really fun challenge,â she says.
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