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The Beauty of Live Edge Slabs in Furniture and Decor

The Beauty of Live Edge Slabs in Furniture and Decor

The Giving Tree: A Story of Live Edge Furniture

Do you remember the Shel Silverstein story “The Giving Tree”? It’s about a tree who loves a boy. Through the years, the tree gives the boy everything she has so that he can make a new life for himself and be happy. After years of striving, empty-handed and old, the boy at last finds rest simply by being with her, even though she is reduced to a stump.

My story today reminds me a bit of “The Giving Tree.” It’s about the trees that endured the stress of years and nature to create beautiful art in their very cores, and the men who have created new lives for themselves, bringing out their beauty through live edge furniture.

The Opioid Epidemic and the Rise of Live Edge Furniture

If you’ve watched HGTV often enough, I’m sure you’ve come across plenty of interiors that use live edge furniture – island counters, dining tables, coffee tables, bars, you name it. It’s definitely a favorite look with the California cool crowd, the mod and hipster crowd, the mountain cabin crowd, and the tree-hugger minimalist Scandi crowd.

Well, I like rustic design if I’m going to a cabin in the woods, but day-to-day, I like my interiors more fresh, classic, traditional-with-a-twist. Do you feel similarly? Never fear, live edge furniture looks wonderful with so many different styles. Just take a look at these gorgeous dining rooms!

But I guarantee you, none of the live edge furniture makers you’ve seen has the story that the furniture maker I profile today has. You see, this story has been a long time coming, and it’s a story not just about beautiful design, but about helping to combat a devastating epidemic.

Riverbank House and Vantz Furniture: Reshaping Lives Through Woodworking

If you’re not from New Hampshire, which most of you probably aren’t, you may not know about the opioid drug epidemic we’re facing here. Or maybe you do, seeing that President Trump called our state a “drug-infested den,” and the epidemic has been covered by CNN, the New York Times, US News and World Report, and so on.

Forget the fact that our crime rates are super low – the national median for crimes is 38 per 1,000 people, and New Hampshire’s is just 19 – this is an enormous problem for our state. However, one man is combating this problem in a very interesting and exciting way. And strangely, it has to do with furniture.

Randy Bartlett first started using drugs in the 4th grade – pot and booze from his parents’ liquor stash, mostly. At age 16, he tried cocaine for the first time, and he was hooked for good. “I was a horrible addict until I was 21,” he says. “Miraculously, after a few near-death experiences, I was able to quit on my own.”

He continued to use drugs recreationally until he was 32, but made sure to stay away from cocaine. He had a family and kids and a flourishing business. “I was successful in spite of myself,” he quips. Unfortunately, he eventually picked it back up again, and so began the vicious, nightmarish cycle of addiction all over again – except that this time, he dragged his family into it.

Needing a change in the way he saw recovery, Randy went to Burning Tree Ranch, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center whose focus is not only treating addiction but also preventing a relapse into the old patterns of addiction through long-term relapse prevention planning. “I’d had enough of crashing and burning,” he says. “It was the first time I ever saw recovery through the lens of long-term treatment, and the first time I was ever really well.”

He returned to New Hampshire, the heart of the opioid epidemic, and founded Riverbank House in 2012 – a spiritual addiction recovery community for men located in Laconia. Riverbank helps residents build new lives, central to the philosophy of long-term wellness, so that they don’t relapse when they leave.

From Living on the Edge to Crafting Live Edge Furniture

While the normal stay for residential detox programs is 28 days, success rates for such programs only hover around 50% for long-term sobriety. Riverbank promotes an extended care model, leading men through a 12-step program entrenched in meditation and reflection, friendships, responsibility, accountability, and career training.

Maintaining a healthy local community is paramount, so residents have to be clean and sober for 5 months before they can begin working for Riverbank’s affiliate businesses. Riverbank also helps residents obtain grants if funding is an issue.

“What we’re doing is really unique,” Randy says with a smile. “We introduce guys to a healthy way of life. This is a community of guys who are trying to live and grow spiritually. If you do something out of line – not using drugs, but just behavior or responsibility-wise – someone is going to call you out. We’re all getting adjusted on a daily basis here.”

Riverbank only sees about one in ten of its clients relapse within a year of leaving. “If you get sober for a year, you’re going to change,” Randy explains. “We don’t have a lot of repeat customers.”

A key piece to that sobriety is learning a skill that can lead to a career. Enter Vantz Furniture.

Vantz Furniture specializes in live edge designs and is just one of six businesses that Riverbank runs and staffs with residents or former residents. Randy, always on the lookout for new ventures for his guys, saw an opportunity when one of Riverbank’s businesses, the Karma Cafe in Laconia, needed tables and a bar.

Providentially, two of Riverbank’s residents, Kyle Martin and Andi Bauer, had backgrounds in woodworking trades. Randy brought in volunteers from the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen to train Kyle and Andi to create those first tables, and Vantz Furniture was born.

Now, both guys work at the shop full-time, in addition to hours spent mentoring current residents, and are supported by 1-2 part-time grant residents, a part-time sales associate, and an administrative assistant.

Andi’s and Kyle’s stories are no less compelling than Randy’s. Once upon a time, Andi had been a carpenter working to frame houses, but had been homeless for a year and a half due to his addiction. He found Riverbank via the internet, using a restaurant’s WiFi. Despite Andi’s calling after midnight, Randy answered the phone after just a couple of rings and got Andi into care right away.

Kyle was referred to Riverbank House after overdosing. He had been a builder of custom lobster boats in Maine and found a natural fit in the Vantz Furniture shop. “I think it’s helped me a lot to be creative and peaceful,” Kyle says. “I just come in, listen to my music, and create stuff. I got lucky enough to be able to do this now – it’s becoming something. It helps out other people too, and I like the community. I have real friends now. We’re all trying to do the right thing. It helps my sobriety.”

Andi concurs, “If I can grow this into something that can help others, and I can run it from afar and train all the guys that come through that have an interest in this, and continue to grow all these businesses that would be my main goal, I guess. There came a point where I realized that chasing the money isn’t worth it – it doesn’t make me happy at all. I’d rather watch someone else succeed – that’s what life is for me now.”

A Diverse Selection of Live Edge Slabs

Vantz boasts a varied inventory of native and exotic live edge slabs. The venture has already outgrown its first site and has moved to a much bigger warehouse. Andi and Kyle set up a booth at this past High Point Market in North Carolina and almost sold out. Currently, most designs are custom-built to order, but their plans for the future include creating an eBay or Etsy shop with some ready-made options.

All profits from Vantz and Riverbank’s other businesses fund grants for residents and the Riverbank program offerings, which I love. Vantz’s prices are definitely competitive, and they give designers a nice discount – which of course, I love only a little less. I definitely foresee using their designs in an upcoming project.

As one blogger put it, “If you want great design and you want to support a great cause and the people of a great state, keep reading.” I couldn’t agree more. There need to be more people and companies out there like this – ones that create beautiful work and do beautiful work.

Conclusion

The story of Riverbank House and Vantz Furniture is a powerful reminder that even in the midst of great adversity, there is hope. By providing a supportive community, meaningful work, and the chance to rediscover their creativity, Randy Bartlett and his team are transforming lives and combating the opioid crisis in New Hampshire, one live edge slab at a time.

As you consider your next furniture or decor purchase, I encourage you to seek out companies like Vantz that not only create stunning, one-of-a-kind pieces, but also make a tangible difference in the lives of those they serve. The beauty of live edge furniture extends far beyond the grain and curves of the wood – it’s a testament to the power of redemption, resilience, and the healing that can come through meaningful work.

So, the next time you run your fingers over the rugged, organic edges of a live edge table or bench, remember the stories etched into its surface – stories of trees that persevered, and of people who found new life in the sawdust and shavings. It’s a beauty that runs deeper than the surface, and one that I’m honored to share with you today.

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