One Man’s Trash

A Detroit couple have made it their business to recycle materials, often found on the curbside, into beautiful new furniture and home goods.
25
Woodcrafting duo Shepherd (left) and Dubay pose with their work. // Photograph by Brad Ziegler

It all started with trash.

Around 10 years ago, Detroit residents and life partners Bo Shepherd and Kyle Dubay were in their 20s and came across it constantly while biking around the city — the lumber, metal, tile, and other objects left behind when someone moves away or a house is being gutted or demolished. But Shepherd and Dubay didn’t see it as trash. They saw stuff that has what they call “honest wear,” or, in Dubay’s words, has “had a life — its own texture and scars and marks that you would never get with something new.”

So much of this history, and the history of Detroit, was being thrown away. Shepherd and Dubay wanted to make something new from the remnants and debris. They started making home goods like decorative screen-printed signs and wall-mounted bottle openers with wood they’d reclaimed from the city streets, selling them at artisan fairs and Eastern Market.

They weren’t armed with much more than Shepherd’s creative background — a former designer at General Motors Co., she trained at the College for Creative Studies — and what Dubay learned in high school woodshop. But they both had resourcefulness and drive. They named their company Woodward Throwbacks, a tribute to Detroit’s Main Street and to the retro origin of the materials they work with.

Today, Woodward Throwbacks is known nationwide for its handmade furniture and interior design centered on salvage. On Instagram, over 150,000 followers watch Shepherd, Dubay, and their small team build one-of-a-kind creations such as cabinets with old signs for doors or coffee tables made with wood salvaged from Michigan Central Station.

Renovation projects include adding texture and Detroit history to commercial spaces throughout the city and converting an Islandview warehouse into their future home.

They’ve expanded the business’s footprint from a garage to a building near Corktown, then a former Hamtramck auto dealership to, in 2022, a downtown flagship, Throwbacks Home, where visitors can find Woodward Throwbacks furniture alongside new seating made by sustainable design company Gus and home goods like luxury candles and vintage glassware.

Life partners Bo Shepherd and Kyle Dubay have been creating furniture and other goods from reclaimed materials in Detroit for over a decade. Their business, Woodward Throwbacks, has expanded to residential and commercial design. // Photograph by Brad Ziegler

For Shepherd and Dubay, the move downtown signals the growing appeal of reclaimed and reused over brand-new and mass-produced.

“Thrifting furniture is becoming more mainstream,” Dubay says. “You go on Instagram now, and [interior design] is all about self-expression. What do you like? It’s not about going to Google and buying the same couch your neighbor has; it’s about buying the cool thing that you found in Ohio or at an estate sale.”

In addition to the uniqueness and individuality an antique brings to a room, older items have already stood the test of time and often retain their value over a long period. There are also environmental benefits in seeing the beauty in what’s already there and recycling it.

“Normally, when people think about sustainability, they think about using fair trade or using sustainable materials like mango wood,” Shepherd says. “We’re actually taking materials that are in our own neighborhood, so it’s more about being locally sourced.”

“Instead of taking new materials out of the environment, we’re recycling materials,” Dubay adds. “The most sustainable house you can build is one that’s already built.”

Throwbacks Home is located at 34 W. Grand River Ave., Detroit. Go to throwbackshome.com to learn more and to order their new book, Throwbacks Home Interiors.


This story originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. To read more, pick up a copy of Hour Detroit at a local retail outlet. Our digital edition will be available on April 5.