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Altadena Resident Starts a Pallet-able New Business

Richie Mukhuti turns discarded wood pallets into garden furniture.

They’re everywhere  -- those wooden pallets stacked by store dumpsters, waiting for the trash collector and a final resting place at the county landfill. But when Richie Mukhuti runs across a pallet, he sees potential.  

For the past year, Mukhuti has been recycling discarded pallets into tables, chairs, and benches of his own design. At first, the furniture was just a hobby, but when neighbors saw his work, they started getting interested. And then they started placing orders.

“When Sara and I first moved to Altadena, our place needed a lot of work – fences, garden furniture. And I guess the idea just came to me, maybe because my brother once made a futon out of pallets.”

The benches, even without cushions, are surprisingly comfortable, partly because Mukhuti is very particular about the pitch of the seat and the back, and partly because the wood gets a whole lot of prep work. “Sanding is the biggest pain,” he says, “because of course the last thing you want are splinters.”

Depending on the piece, Mukhuti spends a minimum of a day on the design and prepping; sometimes the pallets are kept intact, other times dismantled. His latest work-in-progress is a table with a well in the middle.  “A place for your ice bucket and beer.”

His garden furniture can be found not only in many backyards near Mukhuti's and Sara Pereira's home on Santa Anita Avenue, but further afield, as well. He recently designed a set of chairs for the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company in Buellton.

Does he take customized orders? “Funny you should ask. Someone just ordered an L-shaped sofa, so I’m working on that. And I’ve made a porch swing.”  

Their own garden serves as a pallet laboratory. And not just for furniture. Mukhuti and Pereira joined forces to create a “green wall” for their backyard. Succulents grow inside the slats of the fence on one side, and there’s recycled galvanized steel on the other. “It was our compromise,” says Pereira. “Richie wanted steel, and I wanted plants. Now we're both happy.”

To contact Mukhuti, visit woodenpalletman.com.

Hugo September 12, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Great Article. Thanks Karin.
Dan Abendschein (Editor) September 12, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Very cool! I love that green wall... I've actually got a couple of pallets around, because my wife and I like to mess around with little projects here and there, but we have not made good use of it so far. There are some great ideas here.
Ericka September 12, 2012 at 03:52 PM
thanks for profiling richie! he's a nearby neighbor and he and sara have transformed the place they live. we love walking by to see what new thing they've done and what new furniture creation he's made.
Lori A. Webster September 12, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Love this!
Jenny September 12, 2012 at 06:36 PM
I love these stories about a Altadena home grown business! Not to mention the photo of the green wall is amazing.
Karin Bugge September 12, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Ericka, me too. They've totally transformed the place, by themselves and with recycled materials. But to Jenny's point, I'll be getting in the queue for the green wall.
Nico September 12, 2012 at 07:44 PM
I wonder how they water or rot-proof the wood..doesn't seem that the pallet wood would last very long exposed to moisture and soil?
wendy gordon September 12, 2012 at 09:32 PM
love that green wall with plants cascading down. thanks Karen for another interesting article.
Sara Pereira September 13, 2012 at 03:54 PM
This is Sara, Richie's wife. He built the fence and I did the green wall. I weather proofed the inside and outside of the pallet before adding soil and plants so it should be good for quite a while. The plants are succulents so the soil doesn't stay moist and only gets watered every so often. The furniture is also weatherproofed with a clear coat, but sometimes Richie leaves them untreated in case someone prefers to paint or stain their bench/chair a specific color, but should then always be coated with clear weather proofing.
Sara Pereira September 13, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Yes Karin, Richie and I both thank you for this great article as well! ; )
Sara Pereira September 13, 2012 at 04:00 PM
Thank you Ericka and Karin for your kind words. This house and property certainly needed and still needs a lot of work but I'm glad I saw the potential when we moved in. I only wish we weren't renting and our time and efforts weren't going to an owner who really does not care about his property. Maybe we can start a kickstarter campaign for us to be able to buy a house in the neighborhood to fix up! ; )
Nico September 13, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Thanks, Sara that makes sense.-- I assume you had to use some chicken wire or mesh to keep the soil in place? I tried to build a vertical green wall using concrete chunks and found keeping everything in place a challenge. Good luck, your stuff looks great!
Sara Pereira September 13, 2012 at 05:01 PM
Nico, I didn't use chicken wire, however I will on the next one. We were eager to get the fence up so I had to plant the succulents and add the soil while it was vertical, not ideal. Next time I will add chicken wire and moss and let it stay flat for a couple weeks before standing it straight up. Here is a link to a good way of doing it... http://www.designsponge.com/2011/09/diy-project-recycled-pallet-vertical-garden.html But I like the way this person used the chicken wire and moss, I will use that idea with the pallet next time around. http://www.shelterness.com/diy-framed-hanging-succulent-garden/
James Martin September 13, 2012 at 07:33 PM
The stuff looks great. My wife and I had considered doing some pallet projects but backed away after a friend pointed out this article to us: http://www.pallettruth.com/2012/08/wood-pallet-diy-an-unsafe-project/ . How do you guys keep yourselves from inhaling all of that gunk, and how do you protect customers from all of it? Love to hear some tips!
Sara Pereira September 13, 2012 at 07:55 PM
That is true James, that is why I make Richie wear a fancy face mask while he's sanding to protect himself. He had a tetanus shot after he arrived in the emergency room due to a severe motorcycle accident just a couple years ago so that's not an issue for him at this point. Once the wood is sanded and the sealer is applied this isn't an issue. But a very valid concern.
James Martin September 13, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Do you mind sharing what kind of a mask you used? And, what kind of sealer?
Sara Pereira September 13, 2012 at 08:33 PM
We didn't settle for a typical sanding mask, it's got a filter and is more for heavy chemicals and solvents, I don't remember the brand though. The weatherproofer I believe is just Behr brand clear outdoor weather proofer, specific for outdoor furniture, decks, etc. I will have to double check.
James Martin September 14, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Thanks. Do you have any way of handling the chemically treated pallets- apparently some of them get soaked in methyl bromide or formaldehyde (spelling sorry)? Is there a way to clear that from deeper in the wood or counteract them?

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