Heights grads rescue pieces of Cleveland’s history

Chris Kious and Ezra Taxel in their show room. Picture by Lita Gonzalez.

Every building has a story to tell -the story of those who designed and labored to build it, the families or businesses that used the space, and the neighborhood and environment surrounding it. Sadly, as neighborhoods change, these stories are often lost, especially when an older building is torn down. Two Heights High graduates, however, are capturing this history and keeping much of the valuable wood materials from ending up in landfills.

As the housing services manager for the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation, Chris Kious (class of ’91) monitored boarded up buildings slated for demolition. He felt there had to be a way of saving the old, often first growth wood, from many of these century old houses. Chris started researching the deconstruction movement that was catching on around the country. Building deconstruction, or reverse construction, if done correctly, can salvage thousands of dollars of usable wood and materials from each building.

Kious and his friend Ezra Taxel (class of ’96) started exploring the idea of developing a business for “rescuing and upcycling” wood from buildings facing demolition. “We wanted to take the wood from these broken buildings with tales to tell and give it new life,” he says. Kious and Taxel, together with two other friends, Aaron Gogolin and P.J. Doran, formed A Piece Of Cleveland (APOC), which conserves old wood and repurposes it into high quality furniture and interior furnishings. “When deconstructing, we focus on all the wood, wood doors, wood floors, even framing lumber, which in older buildings can have very tight veining you can no longer find.”

Each partner brings a unique set of skills to the business: Kious has a background in materials acquisition, Taxel and Gogolin are designers and furniture/cabinet makers, and Doran is an artist who uses recycled materials.

At the end of 2007 the four designed and made a dozen cutting boards out of wood harvested from a Cleveland building. Each board displayed a “rebirth certificate,” which told the history of the materials that went into it. The boards quickly sold and word spread.

Taxel and Kious agree that they were in the right place at the right time. “The sustainability movement is catching on and the Cleveland community is beginning to embrace it,” says Kious. APOC is filling custom orders for private residents, businesses and local restaurants. “People are intrigued by the idea of owning a piece of Cleveland’s history,” adds Taxel.

The partners are careful not to over-commit themselves and are financing the company’s controlled growth. Word of mouth and a retail presence at Planet Green in Rocky River drives much of the business’ expansion. Architects who have seen their products are spreading the word.

They recently received a call from a man who planned to tear down a house. He asked APOC to deconstruct it and reinvigorate the wood into tables for a new restaurant he was opening.

The Welshfield Inn in Burton set aside the wood salvaged during a remodeling project. APOC is using the wood for custom orders.

As APOC grows, they are looking toward the eastern suburbs. Kious pointed out that cities are showing an increased interest in going green. “We haven’t been approached by Cleveland Heights yet, but that may happen as they begin evaluating some of their older housing stock.”

“When we started the company, we weren’t even pursuing greenness. The character of older houses that were built to last is what peaked my curiosity, along with the beautiful stories and products we could create.” Taxel pointed out that living in the Heights is unique, but "when you’re young, you automatically think that rest of world must be better. Sometimes it takes leaving and living somewhere else to really appreciate what we have here.”

Kious adds, “I think we’ve found the proper way of honoring the memory and history of these buildings. In the process, we have become accidental environmentalists."

For more information go to www.apieceofcleveland.com.

Lita Gonzalez, a long time community volunteer, lives in Cleveland Heights with her husband Mark. Both her daughters are Heights High graduates.

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Volume 1, Issue 5, Posted 12:22 PM, 07.18.2008