One weekend in 2014, Michael Alexander turned down tickets to a Broncos game—in New York, via private jet—to look at dining tables in Palmer Lake. You could chalk this up to the developer’s single-minded obsession with opening the Nativ Hotel in Denver’s LoDo, but he says there was more at play.
Alexander remembers explaining to his (slightly incredulous) partners, “I’m excited to meet this guy. I think he’s going to be our guy.”
The guy was Josh Mabe, founder and artist at Twenty1Five, the Palmer Lake-based studio that gives new life to reclaimed wood. Sure enough, by the time Alexander left the showroom that day, he had arranged to have Mabe create his dining tables—plus, unexpectedly, hundreds of square feet of wood-planked walls in his hotel biergarten.
Possibility just seems to open up when Mabe, 39, is around. As a middle-school shop teacher, he was asked to throw out a pile of scrap wood; he turned it into his first table. He displayed work at Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts (TLCA), and it was so well received that he was offered a permanent showroom there. (The formerly shag-carpeted space is now sleek enough to double as TLCA’s wine bar.) Someone picked up a piece of his work in Telluride, then got inspired to order a $12,000 desk of steel, mahogany and glass.
Inspiration and toil make it all possible. The self-taught Mabe tracks down forsaken wood from around the country: an Oregon shipyard, Leavenworth prison, barns from his native Iowa. And he treats each piece with almost unheard-of care. He estimates that after piecing together a dining-room table—which might be tension-joined or assembled more conventionally—he puts it through 15 stages, including planing, millwork and finishing.
“That could mean everything from filling in the holes to really bringing out the colors in it, and also being able to darken some spots,” he says.
Mabe isn’t trying to make the wood functional and beautiful, but to show that it already is those things. The way he sees it, each nail hole, burn mark or gash in one of his pieces can serve as an important metaphor for the owner.
“Especially if it’s a dining table,” he says. “You see it every day, and it can be a reminder of, Yeah, I’ve gone through some hard times. I’ve overcome a lot of stuff. And I can be a beautiful thing, still.”
If you personally have never drawn meaning from a two-by-four, surely you’ve been in a room that just feels good. Alexander says the biergarten is that place—his guests’ favorite—in Nativ. “I think that Josh’s energy rubbed off in that room, because it’s a very warm, inviting environment,” he says.
Creating environments has become part of Mabe’s plan and passion. He recalls that beyond selling around 40 pieces of furniture, Twenty1Five did four or five large installations, interior and exterior, in 2016. To handle the growth, he has constructed an airy, 1,500-square-foot workshop adjacent to the 120-year-old house where he lives with his wife, Jennicca, and their three kids. He also has added a couple of team members, including Joey Ciamacco, whose background in steelwork allows Twenty1Five to make its own hardware.
To date, many of Mabe’s customers have come from mountain towns. But he is also doing more and more work around Denver. As for the Springs, he hopes its architects and designers will cater more to the growing demographic who want homes “where every single square inch means something, or has character or is built for a purpose.”
If and when this city grasps the possibilities of reclaimed wood, Mabe says he will be ready.
“I want to bring that look to the Front Range so bad,” he says. “Starting off with tables, but I eventually want to build homes, want to build communities. That’s kind of the dream, to bring a lot of style into a community.”