LACONIA, N.H. — The wood grain’s striations of amber, tan, sienna and gold swirl and writhe across the top and cascade like a waterfall down the table’s side. The bark edges remain as nature created them, rough and wrinkled.
“Whatever stress that tree was going through made it beautiful,” said Andi Bauer, a craftsman at Vantz Live Edge Furniture.
Vantz is one of six businesses that help fund Riverbank House, a residential long-term treatment community where men ages 18 to 65 shed their addictions and rebuild their lives
Each piece of the handmade furniture could serve as a metaphor for the men at Riverbank House: The best feature results from stress, and the structural integrity resides within.
“I can relate it to my sobriety hugely,” Bauer said. The wood begins as “this rough plane, and until you get the work done to it, you don’t know what’s inside. You have to plane the boards down, you have to sand them and finish them all to get this beautiful finished product.”
To join the furniture, a biscuit cutter creates a ¾-inch sliver into the edge of the board, and a football-shaped piece gets glued into that. “That aligns it perfectly and gives it a little bit of integrity,” Bauer said. “It’s all hidden, on inside of the board, in the middle.”
Inspired by woodworking artist George Nakashima’s designs and trained by local craftsmen, Bauer and his co-worker specialize in waterfall and live edge pieces.
Vantz launched in December with ads in the local paper, hoping to be discovered by those who summer in this town of 17,000 near Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H.
The business grossed $40,000 in sales within three months and so far has sold more than 100 pieces. In late September, Vantz went live with its Houzz Pro Plus account and targeted New England and New York state with Google Adwords. It hopes to soon be on Etsy and Wayfair.
All profits from Vantz and all Riverbank House businesses fund treatment scholarships.
Inside Vantz’ 5,000-square-foot shop are the planers, the grinders and the routers, the spray booth and the
welding area, and more than 150 slabs of wood, each about 2.5 inches thick. They average 40 inches wide by 20 feet long and are 200 to 400 pounds.
Contractors and customers can choose from more than 30 foreign and domestic species of wood, ranging from curly maple, walnut and ash to podocarpus, cumaru, tiger wood and Brazilian cherry.
“That’s another fantastic part of the job is meeting with all these people,” Bauer said enthusiastically.
“They usually ask me my story, and I tell them a little bit, and they’re more than excited that they picked somewhere that the money actually goes to something.”
Bauer was homeless 18 months ago when he found Riverbank House on the Internet. He called after midnight, using a restaurant’s WiFi and an app to replace the cell service he couldn’t afford.
Despite the late hour, Randy Bartlett, founder and owner of Riverbank House, answered after just a couple of rings.
“That right there was the first clue,” Bauer said. “It blew me away that he answered the phone at that time of night with that amount of care.
“He told me, ‘Yes, we’re cheaper, but I don’t give a s**t about the money, you come up right now, or you’re not coming. You need help right now.’ I thought, ‘Jesus, this might work.’ “
In and out of recovery since he was 19, “something clicked when I came here,” Bauer said. “I never believed in a higher power, so essentially you think you’re the center of the universe and that you control your own life, you write your own destiny.
“The spirituality part (of recovery) is something that I never wanted to cede, that there was something running my life besides myself. So once I got into that, it was a lot easier to just take it a day at a time. It’s easier when you put your faith and trust in a higher power.”
The New Hampshire native works 40 hours a week at Vantz, plus another 16 to 32 as a recovery coach to other Riverbank House residents and their families.
He’s sober, but he’s not leaving.
“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.”