MANDEVILLE, LA -- Louisiana contractor-turned-artist Thomas Dutel has found a way to turn the loss and destruction of Katrina into something beautiful, utilitarian and green. Dutel recently won Best Traditional Design for his entry in the Green Project's Salvations 2011 competition held in April.
The head of Dutel Woodworking of Mandeville, LA, he takes old growth wood and other material salvaged from New Orleans' historic homes slated for demolition and turns it into beautiful furniture and pieces of art.
His winning entry, the "Wally Bed," was crafted from antique heart pine pulled from the rubble of destroyed Mid-City homes and wrought iron gates donated by a Mid-City resident. The original design is named for Wally Thurman, an civil rights activist and preservationist in his late 80s. He is also a third-generation resident of an area in New Orleans that was hard hit by the hurricane and flooding.
Dutel is a licensed general contractor, building homes in the New Orleans area for 15 years. Post Katrina, he has focused on a new mission--preserving the city's architectural legacy by using material from demolitions and deconstructed houses. He is particularly fond of working with Southern favorites like old growth cypress and antique heart pine.
Dutel takes the salvaged wood and material and remills it, transforming the reclaimed wood into furniture, staircases, mantels, flooring and artwork. Dutel said the old growth wood found in many of the area's historic homes has a greater density and strength than second and third generation woods. Remilling doesn't harm the wood, in fact, Dutel believes it makes it stronger and more dense.
He is also happy that he's doing his part to restore New Orleans and to keep valuable wood out of landfills. Dutel believes his city is at a crossroads. "I believe we can rebuild in the same tradition of a hundred years ago and do it in an environmentally friendly way."
Many people with homes and businesses in the Mid-City area of New Orleans were forced to move to accommodate new development in the area, such as the Louisiana State University and Veterans Administration after the hurricane and subsequent flooding. Dutel was displaced and forced to move his studio. He has since relocated to Lacombe.
Salvations is a juried furniture exhibition and auction held annually.
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