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Hand-Built Sustainable Furniture From What WE Make

Feb 4, 2020

by Julie Schneider

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

In our Featured Shop series, we shine a light on a standout shop from Etsy’s talented seller community, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at their process and story.

From the sturdy farmhouse table we gather around to sip our morning coffee to the live-edge oak bench where we sit to remove our shoes each night, the furniture that frames our daily life can—and should—be as beautiful and thoughtful as it is practical. And thanks to family-run Chicago workshop What WE Make, finding intentionally designed pieces with enduring style has never been easier. “People have an aha moment when they find us because they’re looking for something to help organize their day-to-day existence,” says Dan Quinn, who co-founded the company with his brother, George. “And our furniture helps them create a more visually-appealing atmosphere.”

Explore the What WE Make collection

Crafted by hand in their signature natural-industrial aesthetic, each made-to-order coffee table, media console, and bathroom vanity from the What WE Make collection is forged from gorgeously textured reclaimed and sustainably sourced wood and finished with welded metal and concrete accents. Versatile enough to blend in with any decor scheme, these built-to-last staples put a sophisticated spin on traditional wood furniture. “Our focus is on doing a more refined version of reclaimed,” Dan explains. “We’re making pieces that families will have in their homes and gather around for years to come.” 

Read on to find out how Dan and his family transform weather-beaten wood into exquisite, customizable furniture, and shop the What WE Make collection.

Portrait of What WE Make owners Dan and George Quinn

How did you develop the What WE Make aesthetic? 

In 2013, my wife and I were looking for reclaimed wood furniture for our first apartment. We gravitated toward a clean, modern look that was organic and natural, and we liked the idea of using recycled materials, but we couldn’t find anything reclaimed that wasn’t rough-looking. My brother George had been making furniture for friends and family for 15 years at that point, so we asked him to design some pieces for us. 

What inspired the name, What WE Make?

We wanted to build furniture that we truly believed in on every level. “What we make makes us” is the full saying. We believe that what we’re making has to be an extension of who we are. Our focus is on doing things the right way.

What sets your furniture apart?

Craftsmanship, first and foremost. For example, we don’t just make tables. We also make cabinetry, bedroom furniture, and vanities. There’s a different level of craftsmanship required to make cabinetry—and having those skills really sets us apart. That and the quality of our materials. We use a really nice plant-based finish made with flaxseed oil. It’s non-toxic and VOC-free, meaning there are no chemicals off-gassing into your home. We don’t cut corners with any of the materials that we use. 

Reclaimed barnwood credenza from What WE Make
SHOP: Reclaimed barnwood credenza from What WE Make, from $2,945
The What WE Make workshop in Chicago
Round reclaimed wood end table with steel base from What WE Make
SHOP: Round reclaimed wood end table with steel base from What WE Make, from $295
George at work on a piece of furniture in the What WE Make workshop
Reclaimed wood coffee table with lower shelf from What WE Make
SHOP: Reclaimed wood coffee table with lower shelf from What WE Make, from $765
A sampling of swatches featuring various woods and stains

What are some of your bestsellers?

Dining tables and coffee tables are our most popular pieces. Ever since we started, those have been the two mainstays, but the vanities and cabinetry portion of our business has really grown in the past few years. People are just in love with the vanities and concrete tops that we make.

Tell me about your options for customization.

Since our whole collection is made-to-order, we can easily accept custom requests. If you need a dining table that’s 64 inches long versus the standard 60 or 72, that’s easy for us to accommodate since we make everything ourselves. We’ve done pretty much everything at this point, including a lot of commercial orders for breweries and things like that. We do a lot of church furnishings, too. 

Reclaimed wood pub table and reclaimed wood bar stools from What WE Make
SHOP: Reclaimed wood pub table, from $1,295; reclaimed wood bar stools, from $345, both from What WE Make
Assorted pieces of furniture on display in the What WE Make showroom
Reclaimed wood bathroom vanity and concrete vanity top from What WE Make
SHOP: Reclaimed wood bathroom vanity, from $2,695; concrete vanity top, from $545, both from What WE Make
George at work on a chair in the What WE Make workshop
Entryway bench with storage cubbies from What WE Make
SHOP: Entryway bench with storage cubbies from What WE Make, from $1,095
Jigs in the What WE Make studio
Reclaimed wood and steel desk from What WE Make
SHOP: Reclaimed wood and steel desk from What WE Make, from $3,025

Where do you source your reclaimed wood? 

Each month a semi-truck of wood arrives from our suppliers, who take down barns in Tennessee and Kentucky. Barnwood has immense value because you can’t recreate the beauty of it. Every piece is completely unique and it’s great to work with. Our suppliers clean the wood for us, but it’s still rough and raw-looking when it arrives. We go through our own processes to finish the wood to be more refined—not the rough texture you might expect with this type of material. 

Why did you decide to start offering sustainable hardwood pieces as well?

We didn’t intend to use non-reclaimed woods initially, but people kept asking if we could make our designs in walnut or white oak. Eventually, we started searching for sustainably-sourced hardwoods suppliers in the Midwest. Since we’re focused on recycled materials, as we branched off into working with hardwoods, we wanted to make sure that we weren’t supporting any companies that were involved in any sort of deforestation. We ensure that the harvesting process is done in a sustainable way. 

How does your sustainability mission extend beyond the materials you use?

We try to minimize putting anything in a dumpster—reclaiming material and then throwing it away doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Making tables, there’s always going to be cut-off material, but we give those cutoffs away. Local hobbyists take them to make stuff out of, and others use it as firewood to heat their homes. We also give local farms our sawdust to use for beds for their horses. It’s a win-win.

Reclaimed wood platform bed from What WE Make
SHOP: Reclaimed wood platform bed from What WE Make, from $3,095
George adjusts the hardware on a vanity
Reclaimed wood entryway organizer from What WE Make
SHOP: Reclaimed wood entryway organizer from What WE Make, $1,670
Wood grouped by type on shelves in the What WE Make workshop
Reclaimed wood dresser from What WE Make
SHOP: Reclaimed wood dresser from What WE Make, $3,270
Dan and George standing in front of a collection of reclaimed wood

How do you support shoppers on their journey to find foundational pieces for their homes?

We work hard to make sure that we’re making really nice products and taking care of our customers on every level. Our prices on Etsy include shipping, so there are no surprises, and we also sell samples if people want to feel the materials in-person prior to purchase. We communicate with customers from the very beginning of the process through regular status updates, and once a piece is finished, we send pictures for approval. We don’t ship anything until they’re 100% happy. We really go the extra mile.

What’s it like working with family?

The nice thing about working with family is that at the end of the day everybody cares about the business in a way that goes beyond just punching the clock. My father was a contractor by trade. My brothers and I worked for his business during high school, and because of that it was less of a leap of faith for us to start a business too. I handle the business side of things. My wife does all our photo editing and visuals. My brother builds the furniture and manages production with our team of eight full-time makers. My dad does all the finishing work. My brother’s wife manages the online shop. It’s a true family business. 

Follow What WE Make on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Photographs courtesy of What WE Make.

Shop What WE Make

1 Featured Comment

  • thewildplum

    Christina from TheWildPlum said 62 days ago Featured

    Fantastic feature and products! When people create from a place of dedication and love, it shows. "We wanted to build furniture that we truly believed in on every level. 'What we make makes us' is the full saying. We believe that what we’re making has to be an extension of who we are." <= It shows in the details. I was chatting with my sons about a vintage piece of furniture which has stood the test of time and is as functional today as it was the day it was built thanks to its craftsmanship. Initially, it cost more than mass produced dressers, but cost doesn't just express itself in the form of financial currency. We always pay for everything we purchase, one way or another. Sometimes, when we think we are saving money buying something new and cheap, it ends up in the landfill quickly. Do that a few more times over and the cost doesn't just impact our bank accounts, but the environment's. Finding mindful ways to lower our footprints, small as it might seem, all add up. It is also important to feel at home and connect with our surroundings, no matter how humble. Filling those spaces with quality tangibly and emotionally is felt consciously and subconsciously, which then ripples out to others. I really enjoyed reading this. I could almost smell the sawdust.

40 comments

  • sp05xbnt

    Anna from ANNNADesign said 63 days ago

    Great design, simple and concise. Good luck to you guys and a lot of creative ideas!

  • bhinndbi

    Julia from FavoriteToyStore said 63 days ago

    I love wood products. That's very beautiful.

  • hheoh1dj

    Laura said 63 days ago

    Love your up cycling and craftsmanship. Great items. Great style.

  • x8qnpozo

    Anna from LissiKids said 63 days ago

    I fell in love with this wood platform bed!😍 Now boho style is so popular. And this wooden furniture fits so well in this style😍

  • 2dyq9z2b

    Anastasiya from byKiama said 63 days ago

    Thank's for sharing, You are just in time! I will definitely show my husband this article, because we're looking for coffee-table at that moment :) I'm so in love with this loft-style funiture! Congrats to guys!

  • pillowlink

    Rosita from pillowlink said 62 days ago

    Oh my! Amazing works. People who used to work with wood - always are better with filling soul in good energy. Wood is the material - that gives natural energy for people for hundred years even if it is cut of. So - you wwmake - bring health to people!! Thank you. :)

  • ibbvdk0w

    Lina from DreamArtNatural said 62 days ago

    Just amazing thing!

  • q3fuoiz7

    Мария Копылова from MariaKopylovaToys said 62 days ago

    Awesome! One feels style and love for one’s creativity. Good luck!!!

  • Ciaffi

    ciaffi from ciaffi said 62 days ago

    Great work!! Congratulations!!

  • ckmocycj

    Natalya from LadiesDressingRoom said 62 days ago

    Wooow!!! I like so minimalism. Very interesting!!!

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 62 days ago

    Great work! Congratulations

  • thewildplum

    Christina from TheWildPlum said 62 days ago Featured

    Fantastic feature and products! When people create from a place of dedication and love, it shows. "We wanted to build furniture that we truly believed in on every level. 'What we make makes us' is the full saying. We believe that what we’re making has to be an extension of who we are." <= It shows in the details. I was chatting with my sons about a vintage piece of furniture which has stood the test of time and is as functional today as it was the day it was built thanks to its craftsmanship. Initially, it cost more than mass produced dressers, but cost doesn't just express itself in the form of financial currency. We always pay for everything we purchase, one way or another. Sometimes, when we think we are saving money buying something new and cheap, it ends up in the landfill quickly. Do that a few more times over and the cost doesn't just impact our bank accounts, but the environment's. Finding mindful ways to lower our footprints, small as it might seem, all add up. It is also important to feel at home and connect with our surroundings, no matter how humble. Filling those spaces with quality tangibly and emotionally is felt consciously and subconsciously, which then ripples out to others. I really enjoyed reading this. I could almost smell the sawdust.

  • branda

    branda Moreno from branda said 62 days ago

    Congrats!!!

  • 4lcaw73f

    Mary Kolesnichenko from FantasyCreaturesMary said 62 days ago

    It's so nice when a family has a common cause. You guys are happy people!

  • qx3bksd7

    Aleksandra from CrochetHeroes said 62 days ago

    I love wooden furniture! It looks very stylish.

  • xjsmlsln

    Nika from CuteFeltPattern said 62 days ago

    So simple and beautiful. Great work, guys!

  • tbr3qmfu

    Ekaterina Smirnova from WoodenToysCompany said 62 days ago

    It looks very stylish

  • kfwubz8s

    Linnea from ChosenStonesbyLinnea said 62 days ago

    I love the reclaimed furniture. Its amazing. The hard work you put into this furniture really shows.

  • BERaebel

    Brenda Raebel said 61 days ago

    Great interview! We have a bathroom vanity from WWM that we love and gets tons of compliments on. It’s amazing to have a great piece that you can feel good about. Sustainable and supporting family. Win win!

  • TreasuredMemoryLane

    Sujata from TreasuredMemoryLane said 61 days ago

    These are pure simple, great pieces of furniture! Love all the designs and the fact they are up cycled makes me like them more. Congrats!

  • enavidak

    Ena Vidak from EnaHarmony said 61 days ago

    Great things are always simple and modest... Лав Толстој , Leo Tolstoy Great work !

  • cherryZO

    cherryZO from cherryZOvintage said 60 days ago

    Congratulations on the feature ! Always loved your shop !

  • fhmh5j3j

    Natalya from CrocodileCreates said 60 days ago

    Congratulations on the feature! I like unpainted wood in the interior! Very stylish!

  • rhondastubbs2

    Rhonda Stubbs from RhondaCorner said 59 days ago

    WOW! I really like your products and your story. What a great way to keep the business in the family. Congratulations on your feature and I wish you all great sells in the future!

  • bijouroom

    bijouroom from bijouroom said 57 days ago

    Thank you for the information!

  • npizg7hh

    Joshua Vignona said 57 days ago

    It's so nice to know that there's a quality option for sustainable, handcrafted furniture. Great job! Joshua Vignona

  • gg16xhkr

    Anna from SublimationDesignsAn said 57 days ago

    A family business is wonderful, you can only dream of such a thing. Furniture with soul.

  • LadyInPurple

    Jennifer Tyson from LadyInPurpleBoutique said 57 days ago

    Simply beautiful products and your love for the trade shows! Congrats on the feature!

  • Pttasha

    Natalia D. from PatternEmbroideryArt said 56 days ago

    I really like wooden textures in the interior! Thanks for the great ideas.

  • t5xuiosw

    Renee from MissingBricks said 56 days ago

    Thank you for sharing!!

  • YearsAfter

    Sharon from YearsAfter said 53 days ago

    Love the raw, simplistic, industrial style of this furniture! Looks gorgeous in every room! Congrats on the feature!

  • vickiestreet47

    Vickie Street from StreetCrossingDesign said 52 days ago

    Love your shop and such great work on your items.

  • tabbey13

    Teena from Abbeyoaks said 52 days ago

    Wow your work is beautiful!

  • theburlsandthebees

    Elizabeth Ames from EchosinStone said 50 days ago

    Beautiful work-love the story of the evolution of your shop!

  • laurax202

    Laura from MossCapped said 41 days ago

    Woooow so impressive! Sustainability really is the way forward.

  • 24vdxpeh

    Agnieszka from Makramianki said 38 days ago

    Really beautiful, stylish and made with love. :)

  • npizg7hh

    Joshua Vignona said 35 days ago

    This is impressive, a serious pat on the back for the hard work! -Josh Vignona

  • hippiegardenshop

    Pathumwadee Pathumwan from Hippiegardenshop said 27 days ago

    Love your craftsmanship items : )

  • gecko6141

    Josephine Corpuz said 8 days ago

    Thank you for all your company makes for customers who love natural wood! When this crucial moments in our lives (pertaining Covid 19) is contained, I would love to purchase a furniture. Right now I am not employed. Thank you!

  • LissieLoves

    Felicity V from LissieLoves said 3 days ago

    Wow, this is beautiful and such a wonderful brand!

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