Andre Weldy and Brendan Whitsitt
Ages: Both 31
Where do they live?: Washington
What is the one piece of equipment you use that you can’t live without? A wood planer.
Weldy: “Without this equipment it would take it us three times longer to finish almost any product.”
Whitsitt: “Our workhorse is this heavy, ancient machine that can handle just about anything. Before we had a planer, our design aesthetic was limited to what we could accomplish economically with hand tools.”
“When I’m not making stuff, I’m . . . ”
Weldy : “Playing soccer! Or having a chat/laugh/drink with some friends.”
Whitsitt: “Working in real estate, fixing my motorcycle and traveling the world with my wife, Kim.”
Andre Weldy and Brendan Whitsitt were 16 when they started working at the same Starbucks in McLean. The two became friends while making mochas and lattes.
Years later, the duo are working together again, this time with wood and metal instead of milk and espresso.
Weldy and Whitsitt are the team behind District Wood , their woodworking shop on New York Avenue NE, just north of Union Market. The two make cutting boards, tables and more with new and reclaimed material. Their work, which has an industrial, minimalist aesthetic, can be found at Salt & S undry and on their Web site.
Although Whitsitt has long loved woodworking and design — learning basics as a Boy Scout, honing his skills at a full-scale wood shop while studying for his master’s degree in architecture at the University of Toronto — the first pieces he made were strictly out of necessity.
“I couldn’t afford to furnish my room, so I decided I would make my own furniture pieces,” Whitsitt said. “My friends thought they were cool, and I made too much, and I was selling it on Craigslist.”
Wielding only hand tools and working from a detached garage in Arlington that served as his workshop after college, Whitsitt couldn’t keep up with the demand. He wanted to move to a bigger space and get a second set of hands to help out.
Enter Weldy, who was also living in the area after completing his master’s degree in public health from George Washington University.
“On top of having fun in the shop and doing something creative, I like having this as an opportunity to stay in touch with one of my best friends,” Whitsitt said. “When you work together and get to be creative together, it forges a different relationship with someone.”
The duo moved their work to a new home, a commercial-style shop in Northeast owned by a cabinetmaker. The tools and space have helped them keep up with custom orders while focusing on quality.
“At the beginning, the limitation was budget,” Whitsitt said. “I picked up tools off pawn shops and Craigslist, like a handsaw. We still make things by hand, but with power tools. I don’t have as much of a romantic attachment to process. We’ve made strategic decisions to drop certain products because we want to have a certain level of quality. We’re now more about making a product that is consistent.”
Whitsitt and Weldy do recall, however, fond memories of days spent working with a hodgepodge of hand tools in Arlington. Whitsitt’s favorite piece was a black walnut dining room table he made by hand.
“I spent a lot of time trying to get everything smooth,” Whitsitt said. “We had to work so hard and make things without the necessary tools. There was a lot of love in it, and it was like giving away something really magical.”
Both Whitsitt and Weldy, who traveled and lived abroad before landing back in the Washington area, said a big part of District Wood’s appeal (and the inspiration for the name) is the focus on the locally sourced materials and production.
“D.C. runs in our blood, for both of us,” Whitsitt said. “I moved back and forth a lot, but D.C. has always been a really important part of our lives. It’s an anchor where I always go back, and that’s the thread people pick up on.”
Resources for many of their custom pieceshave come from local demolition sites, such as pine flooring from a Georgetown mansion. “We are not the only people making reclaimed wood furniture,” Whitsitt said. “Nationwide, there are companies that have way more developed marketing systems in place than us. There is one outside Chicago that is a rock star when it comes to online sales. But I’ve seen their work in person, and the quality is off. Everything seems a little wonky. I’d rather focus on quality rather than keeping ahead on competition. We love getting creative in the design phase, because it’s about making something really good.”
What’s up next for the pair? Whitsitt said he and Amanda McClements of Salt & Sundry have been in talks with Martha Stewart about a line of sustainably sourced wood furniture and home products. Keeping a flexible schedule and learning to balance big projects with smaller custom orders is the big focus for their future, Whitsitt said. But also looming ahead is the reality of how real estate development in the District — and especially near booming Union Market — could disrupt their work.
“We sort of lucked out on our space,” Whitsitt said. “Lots of people are looking for shop space, but industrial space is disappearing in D.C. I don’t expect our studio building will exist in five years. The next question will be studio space, because if our building gets purchased, I don’t know where we’ll go.”
With any luck, he added, they will be able to stay in the same neighborhood.Both men moved nearby from Virginia and would like to stay.
Here’s to hoping the fledgling company can stay, too.