Remember the Shel Silverstein story “The Giving Tree?” It’s about a tree who loves a boy. Through the years, the tree gives the boy everything she has so that he can make a new life for himself and be happy. After years of striving, empty handed and old, the boy at last finds rest simply by being with her, even though she is reduced to a stump.
My story today reminds me a bit of The Giving Tree. Of the trees that endured the stress of years and nature to create beautiful art in their very cores, and the men who have created new lives for themselves bringing out their beauty through live edge furniture.
This Isn’t About the Latest Trend
If you’ve watched HGTV often enough, I’m sure you’ve come across plenty of interiors that use live edge furniture — island counters, dining tables, coffee tables, bars … you name it.
It’s definitely a favorite look with the California cool crowd, the mod and hipster crowd, the mountain cabin crowd, and the tree-hugger, minimalist, Scandi crowd.
Well, I like rustic design if I’m going to a cabin in the woods, but day-to-day, I like my interiors more fresh classic, traditional-with-a-twist. Do you feel similarly? Never fear. Live edge furniture looks wonderful with so many different styles. Just dining rooms below, but you get the idea.
Not a fan of the “Cousin Its” on the wishbone chairs, but I love the dark gray, gold mirror, and live edge table combo.
But I guarantee you, NONE of them has the story that the furniture maker I profile today has.
If you want great design, and you want to support a great cause (and the people of a great state!), keep reading.
Riverbank House and Vantz Furniture: Helping Addicts Reshape Their Lives
This story has been a long time coming.
If you’re not from New Hampshire (which most of you aren’t from the demographics that I see), you may not know about about the opioid drug epidemic here. Or maybe you do, seeing that President Trump called our state “a drug infested den” and that the epidemic has been covered by CNN, the New York Times, US News and World Report, and so on.
Forget the fact that our crime rates are super low (that the national median for crimes is 3.8 per 1,000 people and New Hampshire’s is 1.99), this is an enormous problem for our state.
However, one man is combating this problem in a very interesting and exciting way. And, strangely, it has to do with furniture. First I’ll tell you his story (which is, honestly, way more compelling than decorating), then we’ll get to the pretty stuff.
Randy Bartlett first started using drugs in the 4th grade. Pot and booze from his parents’ liquor stash, mostly. At age 16, he tried cocaine for the first time, and he was hooked for good.
“I was a horrible addict until I was 21. Miraculously, after a few near-death experiences, I was able to quit on my own,” he says.
He continued to use drugs recreationally until he was 32, but made sure to stay away from cocaine. He had a family, and kids, and a flourishing business.
“I was successful in spite of myself,” he quips.
Unfortunately, he eventually picked it back up again. So began the vicious, nightmarish cycle of addiction all over again … except that this time he dragged his family into it.
Needing a change in the way he saw recovery, Randy went to Burning Tree Ranch, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center whose focus is not only treating addiction, but also preventing a relapse into the old patterns of addiction through long term relapse prevention planning.
“I’d had enough of crashing and burning. It was the first time I ever saw recovery through the lens of long-term treatment and the first time I was ever really well.”
He returned to New Hampshire, the heart of the opioid epidemic, and founded Riverbank House in 2012. A spiritual addiction recovery community for men located in Laconia, Riverbank helps residents build new lives — central to the philosophy of long-term wellness — so that they don’t relapse when they leave.
While the normal stay for residential detox programs is a 28 days, success rates for such programs only hover around 50% for long-term sobriety. Riverbank promotes an extended care model, leading men through a 12-step program entrenched in meditation and reflection, friendships, responsibility, accountability, and career training. Maintaining a healthy local community is paramount, so residents have to be clean and sober for 5 months before they can begin working for Riverbank’s affiliate businesses.
Riverbank helps residents with obtaining grants if funding is an issue.
“What we’re doing is really unique. We introduce guys to a healthy way of life. This is a community of guys who are trying to live and grow spiritually. If you do something out of line — not using [drugs], but just behavior or responsibility-wise — someone is going to call you out. We’re all getting adjusted on a daily basis here,” Randy says with a smile.
Riverbank only sees about one in 10 of its clients relapse within a year of leaving.
“If you get sober for a year, you’re going to change. We don’t have a lot of repeat customers.”
A key piece to that sobriety is learning a skill that can lead to a career. Enter Vantz Furniture.
From Living on the Edge to Crafting Live Edge Furniture
Vantz Furniture specializes in live edge designs and is just one of 6 businesses that Riverbank runs and staffs with residents or former residents.
Randy, always on the lookout for new ventures for his guys, saw an opportunity when one of Riverbank’s businesses, the Karma Cafe in Laconia, needed tables and a bar. Providentially, two of Riverbank’s residents, Kyle Martin and Andi Bauer, had backgrounds in woodworking trades.
Seems like some pretty good karma to me.
Randy brought in volunteers from the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen to train Kyle and Andi to create those first tables … and Vantz Furniture was born. Now, both guys work at the shop full time (in addition to hours spent mentoring current residents) and are supported by 1-2 part-time grant residents, a part-time sales associate, and an administrative assistant.
Andi’s and Kyle’s stories are no less compelling than Randy’s.
Once upon a time, Andi had been a carpenter working to frame houses but had been homeless for a year and a half due to his addiction. He found Riverbank via the internet using a restaurant’s WiFi. Despite Andi’s calling after midnight, Randy answered the phone after just a couple of rings and got Andi into care right away.
Kyle was referred to Riverbank House after overdosing. He had been a builder of custom lobster boats in Maine and found a natural fit in the Vantz Furniture shop.
“I think it’s helped me a lot to be creative and peaceful,” Kyle says. “I just come in, listen to my music, and create stuff…. I got lucky enough to be able to do this, now it’s becoming something. It helps out other people, too, and I like the community. I have real friends now. We’re all trying to do the right thing. It helps my sobriety.”
Andi concurs. “If I can grow this into something that can help others and I can run it from afar… and train all the guys that come through that have an interest in this, and continue to grow all these businesses, that would be my main goal, I guess.
“There came a point where I realized that chasing the money isn’t worth it, it doesn’t make me happy at all. I’d rather watch someone else succeed, that’s what life is for me now.”
Vantz boasts a varied inventory of native and exotic live edge slabs. The venture has already outgrown its first site and has moved to a much bigger warehouse.
Andi and Kyle set up a booth at this past Highpoint Market in North Carolina and almost sold out. Currently, most designs are custom built to order, but their plans for the future include creating an eBay or Etsy shop with some ready made options.
All profits from Vantz and Riverbank’s other businesses fund grants for residents and the Riverbank program offerings, which I love. Vantz’s prices are definitely competitive, and they give designers a nice discount — which, of course, I love only a little less! I definitely foresee using their designs in an upcoming project.
A graphic for your pinning pleasure, so you don’t forget where to find your live edge furniture!
I haven’t decided on next week’s post yet, so if there’s something you’re dying to explore, let me know. And give the guys at Vantz a call if you’re looking into live edge designs. You don’t have to be a local to support addiction recovery.
See you next week!