New Life for Dead Trees: Recycled Wood makes Beautiful, Functional Furniture

The death and disposal of area trees led to an unexpected silver-lining for one local business. 

Vine & BranchVine and Branch, Inc., in Carmel, specializes in tree care and arborist services, recently expanded its business to include creating custom, heirloom-quality furniture and rough-hewn benches for nature centers in Hamilton County. The company anticipates further growth as word gets out that trees lost to pests, disease or age can have a purpose beyond death.

 “I have always been interested in reusing wood, and frankly have felt bad when beautiful wood went into the firewood pile,” said Jud Scott, founder and president of Vine and Branch. A combination of inspiration from a client clearing property and a suggestion from his daughter led Scott to explore the possibilities of creating works of art from the trees typically hauled off and forgotten.

“My daughter sent me some pictures of live-edge slab tables and log-end tables, and said ‘Dad, you need to do this!’ About the same time, a couple of Vine and Branch employees suggested we get rid of these clunky fiberboard desks and make some desks ourselves,” Scott recalls. “Thus, the idea was born.”

Indestructable 

The devastation from the Emerald Ash Borer, a pest blamed for the death of millions of ash trees in America in the past decade and a half, results in costly tree removals and sometimes empty property. Owners now have an option to reuse that valuable wood, and some municipalities have put to good use trees felled by pests. 

“There’s an international effort to reclaim urban wood for products,” Scott said. “It is a great way to memorialize trees that have sentimental value, or to just repurpose a resource that would otherwise be lost.” 

Danesa Stolz, chief naturalist for Fishers Parks and Recreation, was approached by Scott to see if the city was interested in incorporating benches made from the ash trees into the landscape at Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve. 

“Jud and I sought sponsors for the benches. Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve currently has five benches,” Stolz said, noting that the first benches were installed in October 2015. The wood used in the benches, however, came from Hamilton and Marion counties, not the park. “Since Ritchey Woods is a nature preserve, trees that fall naturally or need to be cut due to safety reasons remain on site.” 

The rustic beam benches from felled ash trees also dot Cool Creek Nature Center, in Westfield, and can also be found in Strawtown Koteewi Park in Noblesville. The benches were installed through partnerships. 

“Hamilton County Parks and Recreation joined with IU Health for their annual community improvement initiative, Day of Service,” according to Don Nicholls, Resource Development Specialist with Hamilton County Parks and Recreation. “Through this partnership, IU health donated the benches, which serve as a focal point of the nature play areas.” 

Edge Adventures, who operates the Aerial Adventure Treetop Trails course at Strawtown Koteewi Park, installed similar benches. Nicholls hopes this is only the beginning for the benches. 

“Due to their nearly indestructible make-up, they provide the added benefit of requiring little to no maintenance. Because this department’s mission includes a commitment to nature stewardship, we are pleased that they are repurposed felled ash trees,” Nicholls added.

Memorials and Sponsorships 

Scott’s customers range from builders, woodworkers, interior designers and the public shopping on the company’s online furniture store. Holder Mattress, at the Indiana Design Center in Carmel, carries Vine and Branch-created pieces. End tables, dining tables, lamps and conversation pieces, crafted from various species of wood, sometimes combined with other elements such as glass, offer beautiful, unique options to typical mass-produced home furnishings. 

However, his business vision doesn’t stop there. 

“A dream I have is to find donors for wood projects,” Scott said. “A lot of parks departments, a couple of schools and not-for-profits have expressed interest, but in the end, do not have the funds for wood projects.” 

Stolz agrees. “More benches would be great. This is a great opportunity for visitors to sponsor a bench.” 

Likewise, Nicholls hopes for an expansion of this collaboration. “If they (the benches) are introduced in some of our other county parks, we’ll also consider offering them as dedication and memorial opportunities to the public. Truly a win-win-win park amenity.” 

Scott hopes more property owners will decide to bring back home, in a new incarnation, the tree they’ve had to part with. “We do have a couple of projects brewing that involved removal of trees, that involved some family discussion, and the answer was to remove the tree but make a rustic bench out of it for future generations.”

By Jennifer A. Beikes