Meet the Detroit Couple Giving New Life to Salvaged Lumber

For these two artists, making custom furniture reveals their true passion for materials, craft, and their hometown.

SHARES

Mutual Adoration

Meet Mutual Adoration—the power couple behind one of Detroit’s coolest furniture design studios. Wayne and Clare run a design house and experimental craft workshop in their hometown, building furniture from reclaimed materials. With degrees and hands-on experience in seemingly every art and craft, from photography to printmaking to woodworking and lithography, this pair have combined their powers to create truly unique pieces. They currently sell their custom wares regionally—and on Etsy.

The reason we started doing what we do is…
A couple of months into our relationship, Clare had an art show at a gallery in Southwest Detroit. She created a huge installation using abandoned wood that she had scavenged throughout the city. As we were taking down the show, there were a lot of beautiful pieces of lumber that neither of us could bear to just throw away. We added that wood to a massive collection of maple hardwood flooring that Wayne had stored in his basement. With a hoard of materials and some big ideas, Mutual Adoration was born! The name speaks to our love for each other and also the love we have for our materials, our city, and our work.

We started collaborating when…
Early on in our relationship, we talked about building things together. We each came with different experiences, talents, and skills. After fumbling our way through a few small tables, we got our first custom job. It was incredible! To be able to create together and make money was a dream come true. We quickly learned that to succeed we would have to trust each other and work hard. As we have done that the demand for our work has increased.

We love working together. Seeing our complimentary skill set click into place while creating beautiful objects is the best feeling in the world. And then feeling the love and appreciation from our customers is amazing. Not only are we more connected to each other in doing this work, but the connections we have made with retailers, clients, and consumers is so incredibly satisfying.

Related—7 Incredible Uses for Salvaged Lumber

We’d define our design style as…
Refined rustic. Our work is equal parts big city loft and cozy log cabin.

My first job was…
Wayne: I was in the final generation of after-school paperboys. From the age of 12 to 15, I delivered The Detroit News on my old Schwinn cruiser. I was the kid knocking on your door during dinner, looking for my $2 for the previous week’s paper. I think this makes me sound like I grew up in the ’50s or something, but this would have been the late ’80s.

Clare: When I was in middle school, I earned my allowance by helping my mother. She ran the theatre department for a high school. During their rehearsals, I would help out with props, costumes, and set design. Mostly I was just trying to impress the teenagers by reading poetry and song lyrics out of my diary.

Our main sources of inspiration are…
Our inspiration really comes from our city and the materials it provides. Much of our wood comes from various locations in Detroit, from abandoned homes, warehouses, factories, and shops or as salvage from remodeling projects. Everything is so steeped in history—dirt and rust, wear and tear by generations.

Mutual Adoration - Reclaimed Materials

Photo: mutualadoration.com

We have a deep reverence for the material and its past. The fact that we are working with wood that was cut into lumber over 100 years ago—and, before that, started as just little sapling trees in the late 1700s—is truly inspiring. Our clients also prompt the direction our projects take. Many of our designs have come to Clare in her dreams. She often wakes up with ideas and visions for products, and then during our morning coffee, we’ll make sketches and figure out ways to engineer her ideas.

The most challenging thing about our work is…
Doing it all! We just hired our first employee (the amazing Brenda!) to give us a hand with production and our online store. Up until recently, it was just our four hands juggling all the design work, production, material sourcing, retail and wholesale sales, website design, and the hundreds of other things running a business entails.

In the future, we plan on greatly expanding our wholesale and retail sales, which will necessitate bringing in more employees. Supporting our local economy is very important to us. Detroit has an unmatched workforce of skilled craftspeople and manufacturers. We plan to hire and train additional production and administrative staff and provide much-needed jobs, as we expand and the demand for production increases.

We choose our salvaged materials by…
We take them as we can get them, whether that means quarter-sawn oak flooring from an 1860s home slated for demolition or knotty pine paneling from a suburban bungalow. Any given week might mean hundred-year old hand-hewn beams from a rural barn, cast iron tool bases from a factory, or recycled paint and stain from someone’s basement. We try to find a way to repurpose whatever materials we can get in a way that respects the original form while providing new function, all while keeping waste out of the landfill.

Related—7 Incredible Uses for Salvaged Lumber

Our biggest DIY success is…
The Union Table. Our first Union Table was made as a wedding gift for some dear friends. We wanted a piece that was symbolic, as well as functional. The Union Table is a set of two tables that can be used together as a coffee table or separately as end tables or bedside tables. We create the piece as one, split it into two in a diagonal pattern, and then finish each piece to operate in a variety of ways. The finished product can unify a variety of spaces and, when put together, is truly beautiful. Two becomes one. Maybe a little corny, but we LOVE it. It is the piece that really brought our complimentary skill set together and holds a lot of meaning for us.

Mutual Adoration - Union Table

Photo: mutualadoration.com

Our favorite materials to use are…
Clare: By far my favorite material is knotty pine paneling. It’s beautiful, warm, classic, and abundant. In its un-refinished, amber-hued, heavily varnished state, it is reminiscent of dive bars and ski lodges. To work with it is a dream! It’s forgiving and versatile. The grain contains gorgeous dots and stripes, and, when planing or sanding, it smells like summer camp.

Wayne: I love old flooring. Quarter-sawn oak is my favorite. There’s something about it being stepped on, spilled on, and abused that gives it a beautiful look and feel. It might sound sappy, but when I run a dingy dark piece under the belt sander, uncovering the flecks and grain that was hidden under all the muck, I feel like I’m rescuing it and able to give it a second shot at being beautiful. I’m not sure that the wood cares, but I like it.

Our all-time favorite go-to tool is…
Clare: That would have to be my beloved Flex Cut hand carving tools. I am a printmaker and spent many years making relief prints from wood blocks. Whether I am making a frame, a piece of furniture, or carving a block of wood to be printed, these are my favorite tools for achieving a variety of marks and executing fine detail.

Wayne: I am in love with our new Grizzly 3hp cabinet saw. Most of our early work was done on my mid-70s Craftsman table saw, but it just couldn’t keep up with larger work or give me the precision that I needed. The new saw is like a dream.

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