#067 / 2005

Brooklyn's best boards

Only ten minutes on the L subway from Lower Manhattan, the vibrant Brooklyn neighbourhood of Williamsburg is thriving, with seemingly minimal constraints from zoning bylaws. In comforting constrast to the concrete canyons of Manhattan, Williamsburg's low-rise, brick and clapboard buildings are a soothing harmony of apartments, cafes, clubs, a brewery and eclectic mix of retail outlets and industrial workshops. This frontier, "small-town" environment, together with reasonable rents (which all hope will continue), was condusive in spawning Scrapile Furniture in 2003, and Bettencourt Green Building Supply (BGBS) a year later in a workshop/warehouse on North 6th Street.


Carlos Salgado (left), Bart Bettencourt (right)

Matt Berk, Bart Bettencourt and Carlos Salgado, the three partners behind both ventures, developed the idea that waste wood destined for the landfill could be used to create a new generation of furniture. Named Scrapile Furniture, this recycling concept entails collecting scrap wood from businesses and dumpsters around New York and laminating it into boards (middle above) that form the raw material for their new designs (left above and below).

As the range and requirements of their furniture developed, the partners started to incorporate more enviro-panel elements into their designs, first using bamboo plywood, then Environ, wheatboard and Dakota Burl. This resulted in a lesson in Economics 101 - shipping small quantities of panels increases the end-cost dramatically (which is compounded by the fact that enviro-panels are often expensive because of short production runs). The trio determined the solution was to buy in container quantities and established BGBS (managed by Berk) as a retail/wholesale distributor. As of May 2005, the company was stocking a range of 1,000 panels in Brooklyn and another 1,000 in a Boston warehouse.

At ICFF 2005, several companies showed innovative products that used BGBS-supplied bamboo plywood. "Time will tell, but [business] is much better this year than it was last year," Bettencourt told furniturelink on a tour of BGBS/Scrapile in May 2005. Exhibiting their furniture designs annually at the Brooklyn Design show, Scrapile recently expanded its eastern-based retail outlets to the West Coast after a successful foray into California in August, adding retail outlets in Los Angeles and San Francisco.


Scrapile crates and dining table

As for future projects, the partners are enthusiatic trail blazers. "We will continue to research wood alternatives, FSC, adhesives, finishes and start to be the type of place you know you can go and get a material where the research has been done." To meet this goal they are working with Target Coatings in New Jersey to test the viability of various enviro-friendly water-based finishes applied with HVLP spray guns.

All this activity is stretching the capacity of the present location in Brooklyn, so they are considering various options for expansion. Recognizing that their success may bring on the imitators, they welcome competition that will create more interest in our environment. Bettencourt emphasized their we're-all-in-it-together approach by saying, "We like to think that as more and more people catch onto what we're doing, that there will be room for everybody."

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© furniturelink 2005 (text and images) crates and dining table images © Scrapile