Leigh Ann Stuart, Photographed by Cheryl Gerber
“My dad was a recycling fanatic –– we had the blue bin before it was cool,” Shatz says with a laugh.
Remaining faithful to his earth-friendly roots, Shatz has made a business of turning trash into treasure, crafting new furniture from salvaged wood. He works exclusively with wood from old-growth cypress and red pines, trees known to resist insect and water damage. After refinement he uses these materials to craft pieces such as tables, buffets, benches, picture frames and framed mirrors. His goal, he says, is “trying to keep as much ‘New Orleans’ out of the landfills as I can.”
His pieces reflect a duality of styles: Scandinavian influences from his childhood combine with Shaker elements, resulting in a design aesthetic that reflects “sturdy construction with contemporary design,” he says.
Amongst many style choices that make his work unique, Shatz uses only wood he himself salvages and refurbishes, ensuring that the materials have proven durability and sentimental value. Traits of individual pieces of wood, such as age and grain direction, give each work of art a unique set of characteristics.
“My design is dictated to me by the wood,” he says, explaining the connection between raw material and finished product.
The refurbishing process is not a quick one, however. It begins after a salvageable piece of wood is found. Once the rough piece is acquired, Shatz removes any nails and re-mills the wood, a process in which a layer at least one-eighth-of-an-inch thick is removed. “Preparing the wood to get the final product is sometimes more difficult than building the furniture,” he says.
Although it’s an arduous process, Shatz says, “I don’t think I’d have any enthusiasm to design furniture out of processed wood.”
He also prefers working with wood from older trees because young trees, such as those grown on farms, have more widely separated growth rings, unlike trees allowed to grow slowly over long periods of time. More rings mean sturdier wood (the way more pilings create a more stable house).
Regarding his stringent material specifications, Shatz explains succinctly, “Don’t compromise too early, or you’ll end up spending your entire life compromising.”
The durability of his work was proven, Shatz says, after more than 3 feet of Katrina floodwater receded from his home. Although store-bought furniture had decayed beyond repair, the furniture he crafted, including chairs and an end table, survived.
Presently, Shatz estimates he has enough salvaged wood to last 15 years. That translates to roughly 25,000 board feet of old-growth cypress and 25,000 board feet of red, or long- leaf, pine, a species now extinct from over-milling.
Shatz hopes New Orleanians will be amongst his greatest fans as he carries on his dedication to adaptive re-use.
Art buffs can visit Shatz’s new retail space, The Vault Gallery, at 223 Dauphine St. To learn more about his business, design aesthetic or philosophy, visit