Local Furniture Artisans Turn Salvaged Wood into Beautiful Works of Functional Art
Ironwood Mills rescues landfill-bound Arizona trees and transforms them into unique works of functional art.
By Paula M. Bodah | Photography by Chris Loomis and Michael Woodall
To look at the beautiful pieces of furniture Scott Mills and his talented crew of woodworkers craft, you might imagine he was born with a lathe in his hand. But Ironwood Mills, the company he and Leah Bosworth founded, resulted from a bit of serendipity.
In 2015, the duo had reached a moment of truth. As life partners for more than a decade and nearing their 50s, they were looking for a change. “We simultaneously reached a point where we were tired of working for a paycheck,” Bosworth recalls. “We wanted to reinvent ourselves.”
For her, that meant opening her own yoga studio. For Mills, the path was less clear. He’d been in construction for years, and “the physicality catches up with you,” he says.
The company Mills worked for was closing its doors, so he had the time to help Bosworth build out the yoga studio she rented in an old warehouse in Phoenix’s Sunnyslope neighborhood. “We wanted a lot of fun details, and I built everything,” he says. “I’ve always been a big woodworking enthusiast and was drawn to being creative.”
The process was so satisfying that Mills decided designing and crafting furniture was his next calling. There was one big challenge, however: the cost of wood. As he searched for affordable sources, he learned that literal tons of lumber end up in landfills every year. Trees are often cut down by the acre to make way for development or removed one at a time from yards where they’ve grown too big. All that beautiful, usable timber is left to decompose in landfills.
Mills made it his mission to intercept landfill-bound wood. He works with arborists and developers all around the Valley, rescuing trees, singly or by the hundreds.
Eucalyptus, acacia, Indian rosewood, mesquite—those are just a few of the species Mills has amassed. “Scott has collected almost 5,000 trees,” Bosworth says.
“My log-collecting habit borders on an obsession,” Mills confesses with a laugh.
Once cut into slabs, the wood undergoes a long drying process, both naturally and in a stainless-steel vacuum kiln. The company has four sawmills to cut the logs into slabs, and the wood shop, which doubles as a showroom, sits in the same warehouse as Bosworth’s yoga studio.
Every piece of furniture that comes out of Ironwood Mills is a unique work of functional art, imbued with the soul of the tree from which it came. He often enhances the wood with metal, stone or epoxy inlay. “It’s not a new idea to repurpose this material,” says Bosworth, who handles the business side of things. “What makes us unique is the scale and the modern quality of our furniture design.”
The pieces find their way into private homes and commercial spaces in Arizona and beyond. Interior designer Brandi Hunt loves Mills’s tables for the common spaces of luxury apartment buildings. “We collaborated with them to make tech tables, beautiful live-edge surfaces that are wired for power that take the place of conference tables,” she says. “The artisanship and craftsmanship that go into their work is just phenomenal.”
It takes vision and talent to create such beautiful pieces out of slabs of old wood, but Mills likes to give equal credit to his material. “Phoenix has some of the best-looking hardwood I’ve ever crossed paths with,” he says.