Georgia furniture maker reclaims wood, rebuilds lives

Following the housing crash in 2008, Brian Pearson started a new business: making furniture out of reclaimed wood. When he needed craftsmen, he found one of them -- T.C. Curtis -- living in the woods.
CBS News

(CBS News) DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. - This story is a testament to good, old-fashioned American ingenuity. When the Great Recession put Brian Preston out of business, he got to work building a recovery.

Preston started the Lamon Luther Furniture Company in Douglasville Georgia with no money and one employee.

When Brian Preston needed people for his furniture people, he found them -- three homeless guys living in the woods. CBS News

In 2008, he lost his remodeling business after the housing market crash and had to lay off 12 employees.

"We lost our house, our cars," he recalled, "and it got so bad, we were actually having yard sales just to make ends meet, and we had a newborn on the way."

Relatives had taken in his family when he had an idea for a new business: make furniture out of reclaimed wood like dismantled barns and shipping palates. He needed the skilled craftsmen, and he found three of them -- living in the woods behind a shopping center.

"What we found is that there's a whole community of homeless guys living together. And most of them were in the housing market also -- they were framers just like me. I guess that's why I was attached to these guys living out there because I was so close to being out there with them."

That's how Preston found his first hire, carpenter T.C. Curtis. When Curtis lost his job in Florida, he walked 500 miles to Georgia looking for work.

T.C. Curtis, one of Brian Preston's first hires, is a carpenter. He walked 500 miles from Florida to Georgia looking for a job. CBS News

"I swore I would never come back," Curtis said as he took us to the woods where he lived in a tent for ten months. He remembered the day he left the site for good: "It took me four trips to get all my stuff outta here."

Curtis can now afford to rent a room at a boarding house. He has also opened his first checking account in fifteen years. He had ran into people like himself. "'There ain't no hope,'" Curtis said of what they told him. "And I said, 'You can build hope.'"

"T.C. just needed some tools," said Preston. "T.C. just needed a chance. It's just amazing what a job can do for somebody like that. I completely took it for granted."

The company is on pace to do a half-million dollars in sales this year-- using reclaimed wood to rebuild lives.

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    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.