CEDAR FALLS — The storefront of The Refinery on State Street in Cedar Falls is deceptively small. A stone path leads through a mulched parcel of flowers and grasses, giving it a cottage-like feel. A tasteful metal sign is the only hint of what the building holds.
More clues can be found in the lobby, which is graced by a large wooden counter. Owner Jeremy Buhr lovingly rubs his hand along the top of the piece.
“This was an old rotten split piece of walnut. I’m pretty fond of it because, first, we were able to save the wood, and, second, because I like to try new things,” he said, motioning to a pair of butterfly joints he fashioned to hold the slab of wood together.
“It’s got a unique feel to it, something you don’t see every day. That’s what we’re trying to be about.”
Going further into the building, visitors will see Buhr is achieving that goal.
A large showroom displays some of the custom furniture pieces he has created. Large farm-style tables fill the middle of the room, a barn-style sliding door hangs on one wall, and large cuts of wood are displayed throughout.
The Refinery specializes in high-quality custom home furnishings, handcrafted furnishings, kitchens and more.
Buhr crafts everything from coffee tables to kitchen cabinets to wood flooring.
The Refinery opened at its new Cedar Falls location a few weeks ago. It was previously located in Waverly in the form of a boutique featuring jewelry, clothing, accessories and his wife Sherri’s hair salon, in addition to Buhr’s custom furniture.
“We decided to focus more on the custom-made pieces, and we needed a larger space,” he said. “When this location, with the square footage, became available, it worked for us.”
Sherri Buhr’s business, The Refinery Salon, also made the move and is located in the same building at 618 State St.
“There’s no local competition for what we are doing as far as a retail location,” Buhr said.
“We wanted to have the showroom so clients can come and get a look at what we do, get their hands on it,” he said.
“We like to use unique material types that we love,” he said. “The majority of our wood comes from dead or diseased or storm-damaged trees.”
The sliding barn door features white oak out of Butler County, Buhr pointed out.
“The only thing on it that we didn’t construct are the wheels,” he said.
Buhr has a solar-powered kiln to dry the wood and a production facility on the couple’s acreage located between Shell Rock and New Hartford. Buhr also does his own metal fabrication. And The Refinery carries quartz and granite for counter tops, light fixtures and hardwood flooring.
Buhr said most of his projects take an average of 12 weeks to complete, although he is just about to wrap up a kitchen cabinetry job he began in March.
“It’s a process,” he said. “There is the design, the material gathering, any special tooling. It’s not like going to the store and picking out a living room set.”
Buhr became interested in custom wood work when he and his wife purchased an early 1900s bungalow 10 years ago.
“I was inspired by the craftsmanship of 150 years ago,” Jeremy Buhr said. “We began remodeling, kind of piecing it back together, and that’s when I really noticed the material types that were used in the home.
“That’s when the rabbit hole opened up.”
All of Buhr’s pieces are one of a kind.
“Every piece of wood is different. It tells its own story,” he said.
“There are no nails or screws in our furniture. Wood moves. It’s alive,” he said as he walked over to a display piece.
“This table changes every season. The joints are made of wood, heirloom quality, all traditional joinery.”
Buhr’s projects are a collaboration between him and his customers.
“Clients come to me with a project or an idea and we design it together,” Buhr said. “Almost all of them are tired of buying cheaply-made, assembly line-type products.
“I can do a coffee table, a whole kitchen or an entire house.”
Buhr often uses computer-aided design software with his customers.
“I can see it, but the client has to be able to visualize it too.”
And Buhr puts in the time to make sure the client is getting just what they want.
“I will go into your home or space and see what kind of color, design or wood tone complements your home. It’s got to feel good. It’s got to fit. There is no reason to have something custom made if it isn’t exactly what you’re looking for.”
Buhr cannot name a favorite piece or project he has worked on.
“They are all different, all unique, even the smallest end table” he said. “I spend a lot of time with each one of them. They are all special to me.”
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