Nate Gangwer enters the abandoned Kingsley Arms apartment complex on Detroit’s Hazelwood St. through the back. There is no door. It is completely deserted. Broken glass, fallen structures and rusted handrails greet him in a dark room where sunlight strains through. He pulls out his flashlight and opens his bag of tools that include a crowbar and a hammer. He gets to work trying to dislodge a door, first wedging with a crowbar, then kicking with full force, where his treasure might await.
“We get permission before we go,” Nate said. “There are a few places I have a standing invitation. They are fairly secure. The most dangerous thing is the risk of running into squatters or scrapers who aren’t allowed to be here, not knowing how someone would react.”
Nate is the man behind Detroit ReMade. He salvages raw materials from abandoned Detroit buildings and turns them into home décor, lighting and furniture that drive Detroit’s tastemakers insane. There is the retro 1960s TV he will turn into a fish tank, the fire extinguisher he turned into a lamp and a red leather steamer trunk he turned into a bookshelf. He conducts most of his business through his website and local fairs.
“I found an old architecture drafting table in the basement of a building,” Nate said. “It was beat up. I stripped its old laminated top and replaced it with reclaimed Old World oak boards from an abandoned church. I look at something, and I ask, can it be a table, a lamp, a chair? Once I figure it out in broad terms, I figure out the steps to make it into its new purpose. Sometimes it comes out of mistakes too.”
Nate transforms what was originally almost nothing and brings out the essence of our city. He has no formal training, except self taught skills and tinkering in his father’s woodworking shop. This creative energy comes from his Christian beliefs. Detroit has responded positively because even though Nate grew up in Indiana, Detroit recognizes the spirit of one of their own.
“Detroit ReMade was unveiled at Detroit Mercantile Merry Market in December,” Nate said. “[Detroiters] valued and responded to things that are handmade and handcrafted from the city.”
Detroit ReMade is a subsidiary of Central Detroit Christian, a community development organization that also operates the Detroit urban grocery store Peaches and Greens and the Detroit urban farm CDC Farm and Fishery. All of Detroit ReMade’s profit is put back into the company.
“[Starting Detroit Remade] came from seeing needs in the community,” Nate said. “Seeing trash that needed to be picked up and job skills that could be developed in terms of basic electrical, carpentry and creative thinking, and offering non-weather dependent employment, so people can know they will get 20 hours, rain or shine.”