By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Jan 21, 2003 at 5:40 AM

Michael Doeren doesn't use a plan or blueprints to build his custom furniture. He doesn't even use wood from a commercial mill. That would be too easy -- and more importantly, not in line with his design philosophy. His furniture comes only from native or reclaimed timber species indigenous to his beloved Door County.

"It's simple," says Doeren, who began Door County Door in 2001. "There's an excess of construction going on here. In the site clearing process, timber winds up heading toward a firewood pile or a dump. That can be fashioned back into a myriad of pieces."

Those pieces range from entry doors to plant pedestals to cutting boards to tables -- and more. The usual ingredients is wood like 100 year-old reclaimed native Door County pine or wormy red oak with walnut inlays. And it may look pretty rough before Doeren gets his hands on the scrap wood, but rest assured, it ends up as a one-of-a-kind work of art.

How does he do it? Says Doeren, "You don't have to harvest from rainforest or clear cut land. Recycle and redesign -- it's really that simple."

But the environmental aspect is just one reason Doeren reincarnates old wood. He believes Door County contains something beautiful, something intangible that his customers can take home with them after a memorable vacation Up North. "Everyone wants to own a piece of the rock," he says.

"People who come up here see the natural beauty of the peninsula, how it fingers out into Lake Michigan," says Doeren. "There's that ethereal connection with the standing timbers up here. It frames every meadow, every road. Whether they want to see it or not, they do. If they have that appreciation from a naturalist perspective, then buying furniture from here completes the cycle."

Equally important to Doeren's mission, however, is keeping his local economy strong. Anyone who has enjoyed a summer weekend in Fish Creek, for example, knows that much of the town is now owned by folks from Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Doeren, who started out running a saw mill and fishing Green Bay 30 years ago, left Wisconsin to consult in the homebuilding and construction industry with green product technologies. When he came home for good, he knew he had to do his part, too.

"In this economy, 30 percent of what comes in goes out of the area," says Doeren. "If we use local materials and market them to visitors, we are keeping the dollar in this economy. That economic stimulus is part of what I'm looking for in the big picture."

To that end, he's teamed up with other local artists, all who take pride in creating eco-friendly works. Together, they hope they are helping to change the way Door County's artists make a living.

So what does a century-old Bailey's Harbor barn look like as a new parsons table? Actually, you'd be hard-pressed to know that you weren't looking at a piece of brand new wood. Same goes for the box that Doeren recently fashioned out of an old church bench. From the shop behind his farm house in East Fish Creek, he creates with this simple mantra: " Every piece is a free range flow of art. There are no plans, just ideas."


Doeren converted the front of his house to a gallery, and he recommends the best way to see his work is to stop by and chat -- he'll tell you anything is possible. This winter he built his friends sushi tables for Christmas after a colleague showed him a photo in a magazine, though he admits he's never seen one in person.

From talking with Doeren, it's obvious he's not in business just to make a quick buck. But considering each piece is custom-built, you may be surprised at his prices. Not cheap, but they're lower than what you'd find at a high-end furniture store offering a comparable item, minus the history, of course.

For more information about Doeren's work, call him at (920) 839-1399 or visit his Web site at

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.