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Seattle cabinetmaker emphasizes using the right materials to protect the “indoor ecosystem.”

By Karl D. Forth
CabinetMaker FDM.com
Northwest EcoBuilding Guild member Bob Margulis speaks directly about what’s green and what isn’t. Margulis, owner of Ravenworks LLC in Seattle makes a variety of cabinets, custom furniture, entertainment centers and wine cellars.
Seattle cabinetmaker emphasizes using the right materials to protect the “indoor ecosystem.”

Ravenworks emphasizes using environmentally friendly panels in its designs.

Bob Margulis speaks directly about what’s green and what isn’t. Margulis, owner of Ravenworks LLC in Seattle makes a variety of cabinets, custom furniture, entertainment centers and wine cellars.

“Half of the company’s business is through ‘deep green’ general contractors, architects and designers” Margulis says. “Not those companies that are searching how to get points for the least amount of money to get a certain level of certification, whether it's LEED or Washington State’s master builder association Build Green program.”

The other half of business is directly with homeowners, and here, about 90 percent are small remodeling jobs. Margulis emphasizes that the company has only made green products. They didn’t change their emphasis to become green. Margulis spent 30 years in software and technology consulting, and considers himself an entrepreneur at heart. He entered a woodworking program after two year wait, and started Ravenworks four years ago.

Design or green first?

Do homeowners start with a design and then want green materials, or do they start wanting a green kitchen?

“My approach to things is that I’m not selling a religion,” Margulis says. “I want the customers to feel that they got a really great kitchen that has fabulous functionality and is beautiful, and oh by the way, it’s also very green. And they pay not a penny more for that.

“Most of my costs are labor. Most of the solid wood I use might cost me more if I used the non-green version. I pay a bit more for plywood. But that cost doesn’t get passed on.”

Margulis says he spends most of his time doing client education on his initial visit. He considers the indoors our ecosystem, where we spend the vast majority of our time.

“Homes are filled with chemicals that are killing us,” he says. “Asthma is the single largest cause of most school days lost due to health reasons. Preschool age children (are suffering from) diseases that 30 years ago didn’t exist. Children are constantly getting bombarded with chemicals. With customers, I raise their consciousness about what green means in the context of interiors.” Margulis adds that urea formaldehyde is a known carcinogen that can cause learning disabilities in children.

Margulis says his first choice for panels is Columbia Forest Products. “They’ve been at it longer than anyone else (with) non-formaldehyde products,” he says. “For me, when you’re talking about green interiors, we’re talking about two things: air quality, and sustainable and reclaimed materials.”

Also, Margulis says that the other reason he uses the Columbia products is consistency. “I’m able to get a consistent thickness so I don’t have to rejig or set up tools constantly because of variations in thickness.”

Help as needed

Ravenworks is a small, two-person shop, and Margulis brings people in as he needs them. “When I opened my doors I was just one of a thousand one-person cabinet shops within 20 miles of downtown Seattle,” he says. “The differentiation from day one was that we were exclusively green, it wasn’t just an option. We have a builder organization locally, the Northwest Eco-Building Guild, where we gather and share ideas. (See accompanying story).

In the shop, Ravenworks has a SawStop table saw, 12-inch Oliver jointer, 24-inch Oliver planer, and 36-inch Woodmaster double-drum sander.

Ravenworks can offer a variety of clear finish options, but if customers want something painted or custom matched, it is sent out. In the Seattle shop, Sherwin-Williams Clear Coat and Deft water-based finishes are used. Osmo oil from Sweden is used for a soft but sturdy finish on floors and furniture.

Is it green or not?

When asked what customers think is green but isn’t, Margulis says that bamboo is at the top of the list.

“It’s understandable why the public thinks it’s green,” he says. “But it has a carbon footprint that comes from China (it's shipped from Asia); and has formaldehyde added. The consumer market has not awakened to the fact that it’s not really green. A lot of the stores that sell it haven’t awakened to that, (and) LEED gives you points if you use bamboo. Everybody is behind the times.”

Ravenworks used custom panels with material using 100-year-old fir that would actually cost less than available bamboo. Margulis says that he uses Columbia’s PureBond Classic Core, a bamboo veneer ply that is locally produced. Birch bark veneer is another green material Ravenworks has used for door faces.

“That’s one of the challenges to the industry,” Margulis says. “You have 10 percent of the industry, the large manufacturers with the resources and budget to stay in front of the curve. The other 90 percent of cabinet shops, these are people who worked for someone in the past, probably not the most enlightened business people, and they don’t have management skills or sales training.
“It takes marketplace to force them to do something different.”

Margulis says the marketplace has created an opportunity for someone like himself, and he has spent a lot of time staying on top of the environmental developments. He is at one end of the green business spectrum, positioning his business that way.

What could other cabinet shops do to be more environmentally friendly? Margulis says they can use non-formaldehyde products. That would be the easiest thing.

He points out that factories are still running formaldehyde and non-formaldehyde panel products.

“The size of the marketplace where you can sell formaldehyde products will dwindle to the point where the large manufacturers (will stop making them),” he says. "And when they do that the price will come down.”

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