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Oakland at Work: Bryan Appleton Designs

on December 10, 2015

There’s a liquor store or a church on every corner, Bryan Appleton likes to say of the West Oakland neighborhood where he lives and has run an industrial salvage shop since 2010.

One nearby church was torn down recently and the pastor offered him the 16-foot cherrywood pews, which are now lined up neatly along one wall in the back studio. Appleton recites their history easily: they’d been in three churches over their century of use, starting in Oklahoma before finding their way to a nearby Baptist church. Appleton is now giving them a third revival, segmenting them into halves and thirds for benches, the first of which is in the garden of an Oakland hills home.

Stacked nearby are 42 maple bowling lanes bought from Serra Bowl in Daly City when it shut down recently, which he’s using to build tables for the new Philz Coffee on Market and Embarcadero.

Appleton is the guy who supplies the high-end custom reclaimed furnishings that are the centerpieces of chic Bay Area homes and restaurants.

He’s covered head to toe in a thick skin of sawdust and there is black embedded under his fingernails. His eyes are clear blue and one gets the impression that he’s never worn sunscreen. He sports a staff t-shirt from the 2001 Strawberry Music Festival and a black “SF” beanie like the ones tourists buy at Fisherman’s Wharf. The 20-ounce plastic 49ers cup he’s holding is apparently a mainstay accessory.

When industrial warehouses and machine shops go out of business, his friend Curtis, another Oakland native, goes to the auctions with a forklift. “Everything’s gotta go,” so Curtis brings his picks to Appleton to use parts for tables, butcher blocks, lamps and fireplaces. Another friend brings him choice finds from estate sales.

This warehouse was a 4,600 square foot empty shell when Appleton moved in six years. He’s built a maze of rooms on two levels, lined with rows of measured shelves holding sets of wood slats, 2x4s next to 4x8s next to 8x12s, like with like. The wood is organized by kind: redwood, doug fir, mahogany, pine, maple, oak and cherry, plus some rare black locust from somewhere in the Midwest. There are trashcans filled with pulp, plus stacks of paint cans, piles of rusted tools and paperwork on every countertop. Appleton lives upstairs with his white cat Sasha behind a door hung with a “wrong way” street sign.

A bright yellow 1964 Ford Fairlane hood leans against one wall covered in a quarter inch of dust, which catches the shop lights as he wipes it off with the back of a hand. “It’s something I bought for me,” he says. He’s been collecting letters for many years, and plans to affix an “A”, an “R” and a “T” on the hood and hang it on the wall. “My purpose is to create,” he says.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

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