Category Archives: Riiska Design

CAFAM – the before

Out with the old (desk) and in with the new…

Craft and Folk Art Museum

It’s quite rare indeed that the L.A. BoxCo gets to pool their talents and resources to produce a singular piece, together as a group. We’ve fortunately come across that opportunity with a new design for the entry desk of the Craft and Folk Art Museum across from LACMA on Wilshire. This tiny gem on Museum Row shows some really delightful exhibitions and is definitely worth a visit, especially if you’ve never been there.

Andrew Riiska taking some measurements.

The old desk is currently being demolished with all of its hardware to be repurposed for the future project. The new desk will be a perfect fit for the museum which promotes excellent design and craft, not to mention it will be made locally with sustainable methods.

So check back here to see the desk progress!

The Dunnage Show at Inheritance

LA Box Collective at AltBuild 2011

AltBuild 2011 is this weekend. Come say hello and meet members of the LA Box Collective at the Santa Monica Civic Center, this Friday and Saturday, May 6th and 7th. Admission is FREE.

The crew has big plans! Come see what we have and learn about sustainable building and remodeling resources.

Details Magazine

Congratulations to Andy Riiska, whose Inky and Pac Man tables are in the February issue of DETAILS magazine!

-Robert Apodaca

So Happy Together

The BoxCo Debut Exhibition has moved from AltBuild and now resides at Fifth Floor in Chinatown.  The reception will be Saturday, June 12th, from 6-9pm.  We hope to see you there!  Also, you can check out some more images of all the pieces here.

BoxCo Installation at Fifth Floor

-Robert Apodaca

AltBuild Debut

I brought my camera to capture the excitement that was sure to be moving around in our space at AltBuild and wouldn’t you know it, I forgot to make sure the battery was charged before leaving home. Foolish... I managed to get some good footage of some of our work, but William Stranger saved the day.  William was very generous in allowing me to film him while he worked on his utensil and as you see in the film, he offered up very insightful words that embody what all of us at BoxCo feel in one way or another.

This selection of our work will show again at Fifth Floor Gallery this month, so I will have a new opportunity to film everyone’s work and present the LA Box Collective in all it’s glory.   Stay tuned for AltBuild Debut II.

BoxCo’s Altbuild Debut Photos

Continue reading


April 27, 2010
Media Contact: EK Boatright-Simon, (310) 439-0005

Sustainability is not a new idea but the imperative to live a sustainable life is. We are radically rewinding our approach to a time when value was placed on fine craftsmanship, long-lasting materials and sound design. Looking forward, we value the precious materials that our society wastes.

– from L.A. Box Collective mission statement

The 12-strong L.A. Box Collective (Boxco), a select group of Los Angeles-based professional furniture makers committed to environmentally-conscious design and production, will make its debut at the AltBuild Home Show event on Friday and Saturday, May 7-8, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

While working in various modern styles, the individual furniture makers that make up Boxco are collectively devoted to fine craftsmanship, sound design, and the use of long-lasting, reclaimed, and other sustainable materials. The group has come together to showcase what Los Angeles has to offer in the way of beautiful design, crafted locally and sustainably, and ultimately to encourage buyers to look for the “Made in Southern California” stamp.

“Los Angeles gets a lot of attention for its vibrant history of design in furniture and architecture, for people like Sam Maloof and Charles and Ray Eames,” said Cliff Spencer, founder of Cliff Spencer Furniture Maker and a member of the collective. “But we want people to know that this level of design and talent is not a thing of the past, it’s alive and well in Marina del Rey, Downtown, Culver City, Frogtown, Pasadena, all the soft, industrial pockets of L.A there are talented designers and artisans who are using all kinds of materials to reinvent Southern California design. We want to draw attention to this current generation of players.”

Sam Moyer, founder of Samuel Moyer Furniture and another member of the collective, adds, “It benefits our nation’s economy to buy locally, and it is the sustainable thing to do. We want people to know you don’t have to buy from Europe to get furniture that won’t emit toxins. We’re making responsible furniture right here in Los Angeles.”

The other 10 members of the collective are Sidecar Furniture, caseandgrain,      whyrHymer, Robert Apodaca, Stranger Furniture, Edward Pine Stevens, Riiska Design, and Topher Paterno.

Furniture makers in the collective have made a pact to: 1) use a comprehensive approach in their work that includes sustainable design, materials, fabrication and finishes; 2) make objects that use resources mindfully, having no toxic impact on the environment and lasting for generations; 3) buy recycled materials, supplies, and tools in the studio and office, and recycle; 4) source locally; 5) share resources to facilitate the growth and integrity of Los Angeles’ small businesses, rooted in sustainable products; 6) educate others about sustainable principals through community outreach, gallery shows and the media; 7) fabricate original designs, influencing the design community and promoting environmentally friendly practices.

Members of Boxco often use materials that would otherwise be disposed of including wood production by-products or off-cuts (scrap), trees from urban or suburban areas that are dead, fallen, fire kill, diseased or a nuisance (urban salvage), orchard trees that are unproductive and cut for replacement (orchard salvage), wood or other material recovered from landfills or dumpsters (“trash”), and logs recovered from the bottom of lakes or rivers.

If wood is not reclaimed, members purchase lumber from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC-certified). These forests are managed according to guidelines which protect the forest environment, regulate the impact on local communities and ensure sustained yield and species diversity for long-term economic viability.

Boxco members also use products derived from fast-growing, non-wood sources such as FSC-certified bamboo and grains, recycled glass, metal and paper, as well as board with no-added urea formaldehyde (NAUF) or no-added formaldehyde (NAF), water-based or low toxic glue, and zero or low-VOC finishes. They design for high material yield, and energy efficient production, often using hand tools, natural light or air drying.

And why the box?

A box is one of the simplest things a woodworker can make, conceptually, but it still requires skill to execute properly. Members of the L.A. Box Collective use their skills as box makers to design and fabricate fine furniture. Tables, chairs and casework utilize the basic design elements, structural physics, and techniques of box making. They have sides, a top and a bottom.

For questions about the L.A. Box Collective or to set up an interview with members, please call EK Boatright-Simon at (310) 439-0005, email, or visit the website at

L.A. Box Collective, Cliff Spencer Furniture Maker, Samuel Moyer Furniture, Sidecar Furniture, caseandgrain, whyrHymer, Robert Apodaca, Stranger Furniture, Edward Pine Stevens, Topher Paterno, Riiska Design

Great White Sharks: Story by Andrew Riiska


George walked through the downtown Brooklyn streets where the modern buildings collide with the tree lined old neighborhood brownstones. On the corner he noticed a beat up green dumpster that was too tall to see into. It was seven, and all of the workers had left, but the signs of construction were evident. The boarded up windows and the scaffolding made it clear that there was some serious renovating in progress. The signs were good.  George quickly climbed up the ladder welded onto the end of the dumpster and peered in. His heart jumped.

It wasn’t the usual dumpster full of tuff old goats.  It wasn’t even the rare, but still common dumpster full of cows.  It was swimming with great white sharks.  Thats when I got the call.

The next day George was at my door at the crack of dawn. We wove through the streets south of Houston until we got to a parking lot close to the Williamsberge bridge that I never noticed before. George had the keys to an old van that he borrowed from his friend who was borrowing it from some Guatemalan friends who took it to the farmers market to sell ponchos and sweaters on the weekends. It  was beat up and gold.  It was standard shift with the stick poking out of the steering column and when George pushed in the clutch and turned the key it started right up. Driving down the FDR I named it Goldar.

We crossed the East River over the Manhattan bridge. Traffic was backed up heading into the city but the path to Brooklyn was clear. We turned onto the tree lined street and pulled up behind the dumpster. The morning sun flickered through the leaf canapé. I climbed up the dumpster ladder.  The wind moved the tree above my head and the contents of the container lit up with sunlight.  They were beautiful.  The Great White Sharks were actually 6″ X 12″ X 14′ long Eastern White Pine Beams.  This is the King of all Pines and the State Tree of Maine which has been known to stretch 100 to 200 feet above the earth and reach diameters of up to 6 ft.  I was looking at rare native American lumber that was perfectly cured having dried slowly for at least 100 years in this old brick brownstone.   It was the bingo colada.  The real stuff.  And they were so big they could only be Great White Sharks.
We put on our gloves and started loading the fish into Goldar.  Even with the noses of the sharks pushed all the way up in between the front seats their tales still hung out the back three feet.  They were heavy and un-sanded and covered in 100 years of dark brown dust but the cut ends were a creamy gram cracker tan.  We had three of the beasts in the van and were carrying a fourth towards Goldar.  I tightened all of my stomach mussels trying to prevent the inevitable hernia from carrying such heavy beams when a construction worker walked around the corner with a blue and white coffee cup in his hand.  I  laid the head of the shark on the bumper of the van and introduced myself to him.  I was surprised that he had an english accent.  I gave him my usual spiel about how  underneath all of the filth the wood is actually nice and I explained how we recycled the wood into furniture.  Usually, the construction workers think we are crazy but they let us take the wood.  It makes room in their dumpster for more debris so they are often grateful.  This guy saw an opportunity.

“I know that it is  nice wood I am selling them over in England for $100.00 each.  I will sell them to you for the same price.”  George and I looked at each other.  We knew the wood was worth far more than what he was asking but this had never happened before and paying for the wood was not an option at the time.   I knew the guy was just trying to make a quick buck.  It would cost more to ship the wood across the atlantic.  Plus if it was so valuable they wouldn’t’ have been throwing it in with the other debris from the brownstone like bricks and cement, but their was nothing we could do.  We put the sharks back in the dumpster with a New Jersey address on it.  This dumpster was not going to England.  Just thinking about all of the beautiful Native American white pine rotting in a landfill broke my heart.

We climbed back into Goldar and headed back over the Manhattan bridge when we my phone rang.   It was Jaren.  Together, Jaren, George and I owned a small wood shop in Brooklyn we named Elshopo.

“Did you get the sharks?”  I said no and started explaining what happened but he interrupted me.

“Do you still have the truck?”

“Yea why?”

Dennis and I are installing a kitchen at 169 Hudson street.  The construction workers have pulled out 16″ X 16″ X 16′ long Southern Yellow Pine beams from this old building and they are cutting them into 2′ chunks with a chain-saw and throwing them into a dumpster.  “Stop them!  I yelled, “we are on our way.”  I couldn’t believe this was happening in the same day that  we almost caught all of those great white sharks.  Usually I referred to the Yellow Pine, also know as Short Leaf Pine, as cows, but I had never come across them this big.  These must be something else and since we were fishing today they could only be wales.  Yellow pine is a much nicer wood than Eastern White Pine.  Before the days of the Steam Boat it was one of the most prized woods in ship construction.  Early in the 1700′s the wood was proclaimed by the Royal Crown as the property of the British Crown for the masts of the Royal Navy.    We had recently built a kitchen out of pieces of this same wood we pulled out of a floor to make room for a Cathedral Ceiling.  The wood is striped because its growth rings change with the seasons.  The summer season rings are light tan, slight yellow and soft but the winter rings can be dark brown, with bright yellows that burn into red.  They are thinner rings because of the difficult winter growing conditions and after they dry for a hundred years they are as hard as hickory.  When you cut into this wood the air fills with the smell of what Pine Sol is supposed to smell like.

We pulled up to the loading dock of 169 Hudson Street.  Construction workers were carrying what looked like two foot square stumps and dropping them off the loading dock into the dumpster.   They looked heavy.  Jaren walked us back into the torn out building explaining that they were removing the beams to make room for a entrance way with cathedral ceilings.  The only lights were bare bulbs strung up on extension cords dangling from the rafters.  The floor was covered in debris, crushed bricks and cement dust was pushed into piles along the floor like filthy prairie dog homes.  Lying in a pile were the sleeping giants.  They were huge.  There was no way we could lift them.  They cuddled together, finally resting after laboring for a century holding up the building.  We devised a plan.

We loaded all of chunks of whale blubber we could fit into Goldar, without the bumper dragging on the ground, and George and I headed for Elshopo.  We unloaded all the wood into the shop and built a level platform to lay all of the beams on in front of the shop that elevated the wood above the street and moisture.  The next day we rented a Uhaul.  Jaren had the construction workers cut the 16′ beams in half.  I brought a bunch of blocks and Mr. Bar, my 8′ long steal bar, and by making a simple lever we jacked the whales onto dollies and wheeled them to the loading dock.  The loading dock was two feet higher than the bed of the Uhaul so we got a running start and jumped the old beams into the fully insured truck with a crash.   Jaren also found some smaller pieces in the basement.  With some help Jaren’s friend Dennis we were able to carry the 6″ X 10″ X 119″ beams up the twisting staircase into the Uhaul.  After loading-up all of the whales we were exhausted.  George and I managed to unload the beams in front of the shop without picking them up.  We slid them off onto our platform, chained them to the cement and covered them with a tarp.

A little research revealed that 169 Hudson Street was built by the John A. Roebling Steel Corporation in 1893.  John August Roebling was a German born civil engineer  famous for his wire rope suspension bridge designs.  At the age of nine he built a model bridge and later this bridge was noticed to be similar to the Brooklyn bridge which he also designed.  169 Hudson was built very well to handle a lot of weight because it was used as a storage facility where heavy cables and other materials used in the construction of bridges were stored.  That is why the beams we pulled out of the building were so large.    In 1867 he started design on the Brooklyn Bridge.  In 1869 he was standing on the edge of a dock, working on fixing where the bridge would be built when his foot was crushed by an arriving fairy.  His injured toes were amputated and he refused further medical treatment and wanted to cure his foot by water therapy(continuously pour water over the wound.)  He died of tetanus 24 days after the the accident.  His son Washington Roebling continued work on the Brooklyn Bridge.  It was completed 1883.
The wood that this reinforce storage facility was made of grows from New York southward to most of the southeastern states as far as Florida and eastern sections of Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas.  Large groves of these native American Yellow Pines grew right up against the Hudson River.  They were most likely felled, dragged to the river and floated down in huge bunches and finally used to build New York City.  One of my colleagues said he saw vintage photographs in a Brooklyn museum of the Hudson river clogged with so many of these trees that it looked like you could walk across the river on the logs.  We counted 300 growth rings on our biggest beam.  Since a pair of growth rings is 1 year we estimate the tree grew for at least 150 years.  Since these trees were know to reach diameters of 5′ to 6′ these could have been a much older trees. They supported the building from 1893 to 2000 for a total of 115 years. Therefore, we can estimate that the wood is at least 265 year old but possibly older.  I am no dendrochronologist but I do know that one section of the beams that we saved from 169 Hudson Street would make a perfect “tree cookie,” which is a cross section of a tree.  Through the study of these samples they can not only determine the age of a tree but the environmental conditions the tree grew in.  By studying the different chemicals in each layer of the wood they can even tell when I volcano erupted on the other side of the globe or document the increasing levels of mercury we are releasing into our world.

These trees are the Great Grandfathers of the United States. They are old souls that watched over the world as they grew. The droughts, the storms, the cold winters that glazed their branches in ice and the hot muggy summers the trees thrived in are all recorded in the grain of their wood. As construction materials they are intricately connected to New York City History. They are books that we can read to understand are environment. They belong in the Natural History Museum or at least given another life were their beauty is revealed through the honored tradition of crafting furniture.  They do not belong in overcrowded landfills rotting with moldy garbage.  So the next time you are walking past that big green dumpster, don’t be afraid, take a peek. You might just  find some barn animals inside or if you are lucky you might have to blow the whistle and get all the kids out of the swimming area because there are sharks in these waters!