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Furniture store owners see potential in discarded wood, diseased trees

DARRELL SAPP/PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTEThis cabinet was made with all recycled wood at Whistling Duck Furniture Co.
DARRELL SAPP/PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTEThis cabinet was made with all recycled wood at Whistling Duck Furniture Co. TNS

PITTSBURGH -- When Seth Cope looks at a forest filled with fallen trees, he sees furniture.

"I can't help but think, 'Look at all those dressers and tables just lying out there,' " he laughs.

Cope is co-owner of The Whistling Duck Furniture Co. (www.whistlingduckfurni ture.com) and its master craftsman and designer. He and business partner Bill Walker make beautiful one-of-a-kind furniture from diseased trees and old barn wood, and they have opened a store in Pittsburgh's East Liberty. It's the company's first retail outlet outside Colorado.

Whistling Duck, which is based in Denver, is committed to finding the beauty in wood many manufacturers would discard.

Walker, who grew up in Apollo, Pennsylvania, admired the way his longtime friend, Cindi Conti, was repurposing furniture in Pittsburgh. After a few conversations, they decided to work together.

"This is the fourth store we have opened in three months," said Walker.

Conti will manage the Pittsburgh store, which will feature work by local artisans and artists as well as Whistling Duck's hand-crafted furniture.

Both Cope and Walker are involved in every aspect of the business. They even hand-pick the wood that will eventually become a kitchen island, bedroom chest or dining table.

Cope likes lodgepole pine that has been killed by beetles. Its thick blue veins represent the tree's reaction to the insects that are killing it, he says. He also likes the beetle-killed Ponderosa pine they got from the Colorado Springs Black Forest fire.

"Both kinds of wood are soft and sappy and a lot of fun to work with, plus they have a lot of character," he says.

The company works closely with the Colorado Forest Services and expects to receive many ash trees damaged by emerald ash borers, an insect familiar to Pennsylvanians. Some of their lumber comes from urban forests. When trees get too big or are cleared for building, they take that timber, too.

Walker also owns a tech company, Core Concept Communications, but Whistling Duck "is where I have the most fun," he says.

Old barns are another major source of material. The company is currently dismantling a barn in Slippery Rock. He recalls a recent trip to Montana to retrieve wood from two barns that were to be dismantled.

"Sleeping under the stars while taking apart a barn is the best part of the job for me," Walker says.

The company encourages its employees to be creative.

"If you have an idea, we will build it," Cope says. "Everybody will come up with ideas and designs."

Eventually, he and Walker hope to create a wood shop to build furniture in East Liberty.

"We are all high fives and hugs," Cope says, smiling.