Machinist David Tilley Creates High-end Industrial Décor
A skilled machinist by trade, David Tilley began seeing archaic equipment, gears, and scrap steel sent on its way to be either down-cycled or sent to the landfill. He points to an iron rim that he has repurposed as a mixed media table. “I kept seeing these beautiful shapes go through the shop and thought, ‘that sure would make a cool table.’”
When a few of the old circular rims were set aside as scrap for the landfill, Tilley took one home and began thinking about different materials he might use to build a table.” Over time, there were other designs and the satisfaction of building the industrial-inspired tables continued.
“I could go buy sticks of angle iron; anybody could. Part of the artistic process for me is using what others discard”
Potential customers line up at the open-air Chattanooga Market on a Sunday afternoon to get a closer look at Tilley’s work. They bend and look closely at the table pedestal made from a gear and run their hand across the smooth poplar wood inlay. The artist now takes consignment orders and plans to be a regular at the Sunday market that draws thousands to its featured local produce, plants and handmade items.
While Tilley has been pleased in finding a creative outlet beyond his ‘day job’ at a local manufacturing plant, he doesn’t want to merely build handmade accent furniture that connects with a certain trend in industrial aesthetics. Tilley is pleased to be an authentically green company and is committed to use only found, discarded materials.
“I could go buy sticks of angle iron; anybody could. Part of the artistic process for me is using what others discard,” he adds. His business cards are cut from old veneer and his logo is the handwritten word ‘REBORN .‘
At the center of his booth is a beautiful wooden table framed with an orange iron rim. The base was once a large pulley from some archaic machinery. Tilley begins describing in detail exactly how it originally works, because, well, he knows his stuff. His customers like learning about the original purpose of a gear or other element and ask for this context.
The round coffee table’s surface is an inlay of wood scraps take from broken pallets that were also destined for the landfill before this intervened. And if a rough-hewn splintered pallet comes to mind, dismiss that image. Tilley has put in the time, the ‘elbow grease,’ with each piece so that the wooden surfaces are smooth as silk, and nicely finished without a lot of high gloss. The finishing touches blend with today’s contemporary look. The result of his wood finishing is clean and natural and each piece would work well alongside any mid-century modern echo piece or even as a nice contrast with a more formal decor.
A rectangular sofa table reveals the nice detail of a mortise and tenon joint, what you would expect to see in an older mission-style antique piece. That particular table top is framed in angle iron offering a nice study of contrasts. Some end tables and others offer a machinist’s expert weld and some show exposed hardware and heavy screw heads as part of the design. Each piece is unique by intention.
“The table tops are poplar, from poplar pallets,” Tilley says. “I love the way poplar has so many different textures and grains. Together, they make a beautiful mosaic.” The artist now has friends passing along gears and reclaimed wood that they come across hoping the artist can connect these to a functional work of art.
While the raw materials this Tennessee artist uses are initially rescued from the trash, one look and touch at the detailed craftsmanship ensures the buyer that these scraps have indeed been ‘reborn’ as fine furniture.
Photography by Laurie Perry Vaughen for Nashville Interiors.
Contact Chattanooga artist David Tilley directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (423) 400-8644.