There’s a massive table in Asheville, North Carolina, crafted from precast GFRC and an 18-foot-long red oak log. Tipping the scales at 12,000 pounds, the elusive log alone took the men behind the table more than a year to find. And once they did it was “a bit of a dance” to make the table whole.
When the log was delivered, the furniture makers fashioned a base from it to support a 20½-foot-long precast concrete tabletop that tapers in width from 5 feet to 4. Figuring a log that size will take 10 years to dry out completely and will likely shrink in the process by as much as 10%, they built the tabletop with recessed spaces so it would sit on the base like a cap. The bolts that support the top can be adjusted to the desired height to compensate for the ensuing shrinkage. Problem solved.
The community dining table was installed in July 2019 as an integral part of a new program founded by Jeremy French, formerly of Buddy Rhodes Concrete Products and Delta Performance Products. French left the decorative concrete industry in 2016 to start Making Whole, an apprenticeship program where men recovering from drug addiction learn how to make furniture … and in the process discover the art of problem solving.
Focusing on teaching men in recovery how to make furniture from wood, metal and artisan concrete, the program supports up to 10 apprentices who work alongside French and two other full-time staff and a host of guest masters of craft.
Besides making furniture, the men cook lunch Monday through Friday and serve it up family style. Often, it’s just the staff, some helpers and the apprentices. Sometimes, it’s prepared under the guidance of gourmet chefs. And other times random people from the community pop in to help.
The most memorable event so far was a free concert held to raise awareness of the opioid crisis that attracted some 100 people. “We cooked a huge meal for everybody,” says French of the crowd of folks ages 5 to 90. Music was provided by the Asheville Symphony Youth Orchestra and accompanied by an African drum ensemble that “just popped up,” an odd mix that somehow meshed.
“This place just attracts crazy stuff like that,” he says. “There’s always something going on.”