Contributing Monkie Jennifer Buonantony
Published on December 16, 2008
Looking at Cliff Spencer’s design gallery is truly like viewing a work of art. When I first heard there was a designer using old wine barrels to make furniture and cabinetry, I was dying to see what the pieces looked liked and how this idea had come about. And when I did, I was impressed.
My only prior experience with wine barrels was a wine-tasting road trip up the coast of California’s lovely wine country. I knew that wine was given its flavor from the wood as it ferments, and that after a barrel loses its flavor (on average 3-4) years, the barrels are either discarded or used for storage. It had never occurred to me that just as the oak flavor of the wood seeps into the wine, the color of the grapes would similarly leave a permanent stain on the wood — and in an array of natural colors.
This permanency and diversity was a blessing for designer Cliff Spencer. He now not only knows which wines leave the darkest and lightest stains — Pinot Noir for the former and Pinot Grigio for the later — he’s learned to use these wine-stained woods in his environmentally friendly home design. The different shades allow for beautiful coloring and patterns and let his designs stand out as unique. The sliding barn door and wall made of oak staves used in the wine-aging process are a perfect example of this natural beauty.
In addition to using recycled wine barrels, his designs employ other reclaimed wood from old lumber and fallen backyard trees. Cliff uses both traditional (walnut, cherry, oak and maple woods) and non-traditional species like elm, eucalyptus, bamboo and sycamore. Not to mention that except for the non-toxic low VOC adhesives and water base finishes, the furniture is made from 100% recycled materials.
Unfortunately, the only thing more startling than the beauty of his designs were the prices of his craftsmanship. Ten thousand dollars for a custom-made coffee table or rocking chair is way out of the average shopper’s price range, let alone custom cabinetry for an entire kitchen or bathroom. Despite loving Cliff Spencer’s designs, his pieces will remain for me like a work of art — to be admired from afar.