One thing’s for sure: Andrew Webber, owner of Outland Furnishings, knows how to make the most of a small space.
His workshop is in a tiny one-car garage behind his apartment building in the Southmoreland neighborhood. There he carefully disassembles bourbon barrels, then turns the smoked, aged wood into exquisite Adirondack chairs and leg rests, barstools, wine racks, pet beds, tables and benches. All have a rustic-modern flair that would fit into several room and garden styles.
In addition to repurposing bourbon barrels, Outland Furnishings is also an American Forests Small Business Partner, which means that for every item purchased, a tree is planted to help rebuild threatened forest ecosystems.
Prices for Outland’s furnishings range from $125 for a wine rack to $795 for a chair. Leg rests are additional. For more information, go to outlandfurnishings.com.
We caught up with Webber working in his garage one morning:
Where are you selling these?
Right now online (at outlandfurnishings.com). The Home Show (last weekend at Bartle Hall) is the big debut. We are also talking to a few local retailers about putting them in their shops.
Do you take custom orders?
This barstool was just commissioned. It’s not finished yet. We are working with a distillery in Kentucky to outfit his restaurant. I build by order only. It takes two to four weeks for delivery.
How did you learn to make furniture?
I started in carpentry working with my grandfather when I was 6 years old making basic stuff, presents for family and friends. I took shop classes in high school, then design classes at Drexel University. I also took private lessons with master carpenters.
My mom was an opera singer, and my dad was an engineer, so my family is creative.
Why did you start using whiskey barrels?
I first found a barrel while living in Kentucky. I started about five years ago. It was such a gift to get a barrel, and I tried to figure out what I could do with it. My first piece was rough, but it was a chair similar to these (Adirondacks) and some candleholders. I put pictures up on Facebook, and people went nuts over them.
How did you come up with this particular shape for the Adirondack chair, where the back narrows at the top?
I think I started with the backs more flat and tried different designs. But these turned out to be the most popular for me. They’re pretty much my own design.
What do you do to get the wood ready for building after taking a barrel apart?
The inside is charred, so it takes quite a bit of prep work, so there’s a lot of soot in my face. It takes a whole day. We have to get the embers off, and we start by scraping with a wire brush, then we sand with a low-grit paper and work up to very fine paper. We sand three times. Then I start to build. Then we have to make these wood plugs to cover the screws. We cut them from the whiskey barrels and glue them in.
What types of finishes do you use on them?
Rustic, naked, Outland finish, red oak and ebony. All can come with Outland guard, which is an all-natural finish that protects the wood if it’s outside.
Is this a full-time job for you?
Sort of. I work part-time in hospitality at Hollywood Casino. I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and have worked in hospitality since age 14 when I worked at a Chuck E. Cheese’s. I’m still bartending and serving, and was in marketing for awhile, but this (building furniture) is what I love to do.
What is this notch in the arm rest?
It’s for a wine glass. A friend sent the idea to me. She found it on Pinterest. Not all of them have it. Every chair is just a little bit different.
What can you make out of one barrel?
Usually a chair and a small piece such as a leg rest or side table.
What does a barrel cost?
It varies. Recently, Wal-Mart and Home Depot began buying them up, and they got the distilleries to agree not to sell to anyone else, so that drove up the price.
The thing about bourbon is, they only use the barrels once. Then they might send them overseas and reuse them to make Scotch. And now a lot of craft breweries are using them to make barrel-aged beers. The first barrel I got was Maker’s Mark, but it was expensive and not practical for what I wanted to do.
Tell me about your workshop.
I make everything with handheld orbital sanders, and this is the workhorse: my Craftsman table saw that gives very precise cuts. And then my drill press for making plugs and countersinks. The garage is 10 by 20 feet.
So are you a bourbon drinker, and if so, what kind?
Oh yes. When I was growing up, my family always drank Maker’s Mark, so I drink that. But I also recently discovered Dark Horse Distillery in Lenexa, which I really like.