If you’re a home renovation TV junkie (think Fixer Upper, Property Brothers, or House Hunters Renovation), you know the story line. After a grueling search, the enthusiastic homebuyers finally find their gem in the rough, but invariably the kitchen and bathrooms need “updating.” Then out come the sledgehammers, and sometimes the homeowners get to have the fun of launching the first blows, crushing cabinets and vanities to smithereens—and the remnants are hauled to the overflowing dumpster outside.
Certainly there are old, damaged furnishings that deserve burial, but more often it’s a matter of taste, and perfectly good materials end up in our waste stream. Sometimes better than perfectly good—like in La Jolla or Rancho Santa Fe homes with gorgeous interiors that an owner wants to remodel. What can happen to the now-rejected furnishings?
That’s where ReFind Kitchens has found its niche. David Berens and his mom, Juliann, launched what is essentially a sustainable social enterprise in June 2016. They find used or showroom kitchen cabinets, sinks, countertops, bathroom vanities, and other kitchen and bath materials, deconstruct them from their source, spruce them up if necessary, and resell them to homeowners.
Juliann Berens, an NCIDQ-certified interior designer who owned a green design firm in Tucson, offers design services to help buyers reconfigure the materials and create stunning, user-friendly spaces. And the duo, who settled in San Diego to be with family, offers construction plans and drawings, and project management.
Indeed, the beauty of this business is that what they salvage avoids going to the dump or any other solid waste stream, donors get a tax deduction via a free IRS-approved appraisal coordinated by ReFind Kitchens, and buyers can enjoy well-built, high-end materials for the cost equivalent of shopping at IKEA. The company also donates about 20% of sales to the ReUse People of America organization to fund more deconstructed, salvaged building materials to supply development in low-income communities and support industry job training.
I walked into their Miramar-area showroom and found furnishings that, to me, were surprisingly well made. But the point was I shouldn’t have been surprised. David Berens is discerning about what he takes. For instance, just to the left of the entrance was an enormous vanity with an ebony finish topped by pink and red marble. When I remarked on it, he showed off its features. The entire piece was crafted from solid alder wood. The joints were dovetailed and all the doors and drawers had dust sealers. The ebony finish was custom satin with a UV-protective glaze to prevent fading or discoloration from sun exposure. It turns out the piece, built by William Ohs, a Denver cabinetmaker who is a pioneer in precision casework construction, came from a showroom simply because it was changing out offerings for a new season.
David Berens, 26, has always been interested in environmental sustainability, dating back to a fifth-grade project when he created a souped-up recycling bin. While studying economics at George Mason University, he received a Fulbright Scholarship that took him to Uruguay for a year to teach environmental science to mostly middle school kids.
He returned to the States and worked on a farm in Northern California before realizing production farming wasn’t for him. While trying to figure out his next step, he became a handyman in San Francisco. It was there that he read a New York Times piece about green demolition and it inspired him to research similar businesses on the West Coast.
“There weren’t any,” he says. “So I pitched the idea to my mom and she liked it. There are a few deconstruction companies in the Bay Area, but they’re different from how we do it. No one was doing small projects like kitchens and bathrooms. And no one was taking care in how they did the deconstruction. Contractors have to have a reason to care so that what ends up on the curb isn’t dinged or broken.”
It isn’t all furniture either. David Berens showed me a 1989 36-inch, six-burner Wolf stove in the back of their offices that he is joyfully refurbishing. And it also isn’t all wood furnishings—a 1957 modular metal Youngstown cabinet he found in a hideous yellow is being restored to white and pink for a Palm Springs client renovating a mid-century modern home.
David Berens supervises the deconstruction and wrap packing. Once the pieces get back to their offices, the fun begins. Often it’s not a single piece, like the Ohs vanity—it’s a whole kitchen with multiple boxes. At that point, with their network of contractors and designers, and their involvement with the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), they get potential customers who Juliann Berens works with.
Recently a woman living in a small condo in Point Loma came to them wanting to renovate her kitchen. ReFind Kitchens had stylish white cabinetry that the customer liked but thought would be too large for her tiny space. Juliann Berens was able to reconfigure the boxes so that they could all be incorporated—and be both aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly. If there’s a situation in which there are leftover pieces, they’re donated and the buyer gets a tax deduction. “It’s like working with Legos or Tetris,” she says. “It’s fun.”
How much of an impact is the business making on the environment?
“In the last year we have diverted an estimated 20,000 pounds of cabinetry, 8,000 pounds of appliances, and over 4,300 pounds of natural and engineered stone,” David Berens says.
“It’s a win for everyone,” he adds. “The donors and buyers benefit. So does the environment. And design. We take materials that would otherwise be destroyed and thrown away and keep design and craft alive.”
9030 Kenamar Drive, Suite 314, Miramar, San Diego