For love of port timber
Sustainable designer furniture from Hamburg
When Lasse Bagdahn talks about "raw materials", he means discarded jetties, huge planks and occasionally even the remains of an old barn. He's fallen in love with scrap timber, especially when it comes from the port of Hamburg. The carpenter upcycles his finds to make high-quality dining tables, benches and picture frames – and every piece tells a story. Our author Lena Frommeyer visited him at the workshop where his furniture label Hafenholz has its home.
Photos: Claudius Schulze
Lasse Bagdahn's workshop isn't easy to find. It's in the West Hamburg district of Ottensen, where a little side street leads to a labyrinthine industrial park. Craftspeople, designers and agencies are based in the old warehouses. Entering the interior courtyard, you're confront after a few brief steps with a curtain of heavy rubber vertical slats. Behind the curtain, the 35-year old Hamburg man and his partner Per Völkel work on tables, wall-mounted bicycle racks and picture frames – mostly made of timbers that used to be something else. Their concept: people who buy furniture here take a piece of history home.
The story of the Hafenholz furniture label starts with picture frames. Lasse and Per met at wood technology college in Hamburg, and afterwards qualified as master craftsmen together. In 2010, the duo visited a sawmill that processes imported lumber in the port of Hamburg. The wanes produced – defective corners or edges on a piece of lumber – went unused. They took the material and made individual picture frames out of it – the first Hafenholz product went on sale.
Informers reveal fresh sources
Since then, new sources of timber have been added continuously. Lasse tells me that there's now real competition for some varieties of wood. Beams that have been roughly cut to size are stacked to the ceiling at the back of the workshop. Lasse climbs a ladder and heaves one of them down. “This was once part of a dolphin, “ he explains. “They're broad piles where ships can tie up in harbour”. It's still easy to see which part of the timber jutted above the water: seagulls rested on the weathered head after they finished hunting for fish and crayfish in the Elbe. The dolphin stood foursquare in the muddy harbour bottom for decades, and was then hauled out with heavy equipment. If it hadn't landed in Lasse's carpentry shop, it would have gone to a landfill site.
The cut timber then has to dry out for three years before Lasse can work with it. It's just as well he's not the impatient kind – more the relaxed northerner. The carpenter grew up in Hamburg, attended the Waldorf School here and is a member of a sailing club. The water sport introduced him to a lot of people who are employed at northern German ports and now give him tips on finding wood. “A diver from Lübeck will call us as soon as dolphins are hauled out,” says Lasse. Another informer works as an engineer for the Hamburg Port Authority. “He has wild tales to tell about how he smuggled old dolphins through customs 20 years ago for his own use. Nowadays, it's no longer that big a deal”.
Lasse lays the beam on his circular saw. He's already made one table from dolphin timber: more than two metres long and with weathered edges that tell its tale. He's now working on a follow-on order. Lotta the dog lies peacefully asleep beneath the machine. “She's also responsible for wood shredding here,” he says, and tosses her a chunk of wood which she immediately starts chewing with relish. He also likes to go down to the Elbe with Lotta. His favourite is the quiet Övelgönne district, famous for its many steps and the captains' houses on the Elbe beach. On those visits, his two-year-old son and the dog compete with each in digging – while enjoying a view of huge container ships. You can also see a few dolphins from there, at the adjacent Museumshafen Övelgönne. Maybe one or the other of them will land on Lasse's workbench one day.