Sep 152010
 
Authors: Keeley Blakley

Danelle and Matthew Britt give old things new lives.

As co-founders of Wool Hat L.L.C., Danelle, 29, and Matthew, 31, are trying to encourage a more sustainable lifestyle by creating home furnishings and accessories that are made with recycled or local materials.

College students have been the hardest market to crack so far, said Danelle, who graduated from CSU in 2003 with a degree in marketing. Students need furniture on a short-term basis, so they buy inexpensive furniture that will only last about three years.

The Britts want students to think about buying quality products with a story. They propose that students buy items that are sustainable and can be passed down from generation to generation of Rams.

One of the furniture pieces that the Britts think will appeal to students is a table made from basketball court flooring from a local elementary school. With a red line down the center, Danielle describes it as the perfect quarters table.

They also sell hats made from old polyester jumpsuits and luggage bags for your bike made from things like thermos bags and bowling bags.

The pair runs the business from their family home on Laporte Avenue with their two young children, Farmer, 4, and Religion, 2. Their biggest competition is stores like Target and Walmart.

Every piece the Britts make has a history and a story.

They have used 80-year-old barn wood from a farm in Fort Morgan and the deconstructed wood from a timber-frame home in Estes Park to make tables.

The recent renovations at CSU have also exposed new resources for the Britts to use.

Laminate-topped tables from the Chemistry Building were given a facelift by exposing the metal tops underneath the laminate, and desk tops were added to old chairs from the school.

Making a piece of furniture from reclaimed materials can take about 20 percent more time to build than building something brand new, Matthew said.

“We are taking the time for something a lot of people don’t have time for anymore,” Danelle said.

The Britts mainly do custom pieces now, but a list of their current stock is available online at http://woolhatstuff.com and customers are welcome to call ahead to see the showroom at their house.

A lot of the supplies come from ReSource Fort Collins, which Danelle describes as the reclaimed Home Depot. ReSource salvages old building materials so they can be used for other projects in the community.

“Our biggest challenge is finding the materials before they get thrown out,” Danelle said.

As the word spreads about the Britts’ business, it is easier for them to find materials to use for projects. They say many people call them about old building materials that friends are getting rid of.

The couple came up with the idea to start Wool Hat after remodeling their kitchen using old cabinets and mainly recycled resources.

The Britts found a set of old brown cabinets from ReSource and refinished them to look more modern. The light fixtures in the kitchen are made from old colanders and deconstructed lights, an idea that Danelle Britt came up with.

Matthew estimates that about 80 percent of the kitchen was remodeled using recycled material.

Danelle worked for New Belgium Brewing Company before taking on the full-time job of owning a business.

“I’m one of the proud few to ever quit,” Danelle said. “I love (New Belgium) and what they are about, but to create is something really special.”

Matthew was a furniture maker before starting Wool Hat but said he was tired of being “just a cog in the wheel.” He said that it was a lot easier to make new furniture than to fix the old, but often materials were wasted.

The Britts really want to inspire others to follow in their footsteps of a more sustainable life and hope their business will help convince people to use old materials to make something new and functional.

While the Britts said they love what they are doing now, starting a new business was difficult.

The couple started the business in January 2010 and has been working full-time since March.
“It was scary to pull the safety net,” Danelle said. “I can work all week and not make a single dime.”

“Doing what we want to do means giving up the long-term plan,” Matthew added.

Fort Collins has a growing community of people looking for more sustainable solutions and has served as the perfect place for the Britts to start Wool Hat.

The Britts receive a lot of support from their neighbors and other local businesses. They rent a garage to store their finished pieces from one of their neighbors and it is not unusual for someone to come by their house to ask about the project they are working on.
One neighbor recently replaced the original wood flooring in their early 1900s bungalow, and the Britts were able to use the old flooring to make four tables.

One of the best parts of working from the house, according to the Britts, is having a flexible schedule to spend time with their children.

“We are really lucky our kids get to be involved in everything we do,” Danelle said.
The family has time to take a break and go to the park during the day and teach Farmer and Religion how to live a sustainable lifestyle.

In a lot of ways, they have gone back to the simple life, the couple said.

Staff Writer Keeley Blakley can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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