Niki McDowell opened her Grandview showroom in May 2018. Photo by Jill Draper.
Green Clean Designs turns used office furnitures into trendy pieces
By Jill Draper
When a business relocates or shuts down or undertakes a big remodeling project, where do all the cubicles go? And the conference tables and the office chairs?
Too many get dumped in the landfill. But some of them find temporary shelter at a local company called Green Clean Designs where they’re reassembled into new shapes, painted trendy colors, reupholstered or otherwise refurbished into items that fit another business’s needs.
Niki McDowell started Green Clean Designs in her Leawood home, but last May she moved the company into a 5,000-square-foot renovated warehouse at 613 Main St. in Grandview. She describes the operation as an eco-friendly office furnishing and décor business.
Her main goal is to pair what a client loves with what they’re willing to spend, adding a fun twist whenever possible. “It’s not necessarily low-budget,” she says, “but I try to figure out ways to give that high-end design look at a better price. If I can save somebody $5,000 on their office design, that’s money that can go to their employees.”
McDowell says she saved the University of Missouri $300,000 for an administration building in Columbia. She and her business partner Mike Malone redecorated the first three floors with pre-owned furniture while the top seven floors received new furnishings. “When it was finished, no one could tell the difference.”
At other times the goal is just to keep material from the trash stream. When Sprint downsized, she located a company in St. Louis that accepted many of the old cubicle panels; other items were donated to Habitat for Humanity. “We saved a total of 180,000 pounds (or 90 tons) of product from the landfill,” she says. “It’s important to be a good steward of the environment.”
McDowell likes to design “bright, happy places,” and her building in Grandview reflects that aim. Part showroom, part workshop and part storage facility, the space is full of light, local artwork and small groupings of furniture. A set of premium leather Herman Miller Eames chairs sit on a geometric vinyl flooring mat, while brushed aluminum Emeco Hudson chairs from a New York City hotel surround a tabletop made from recycled Ripple glass. Less expensive items include floating storage cabinets made from cubicle shelves and a reception desk paneled with reclaimed wood.
After a background in mergers and acquisitions, McDowell enjoys focusing on creativity in addition to spreadsheets. Her design for The Chef’s Warehouse, for example, uses eye-popping graphics on the sides of cubicle panels to jazz up the workspace for the food distributor’s Chicago office. For a heavy equipment company in Tennessee she created a vintage industrial look with pieces of live edge wood and hand-painted file cabinets.
At least one piece should be a “talk trigger,” something that will be remembered, she tells her clients, which range from small nonprofits to major corporations. She often finds connections through the Office Furniture Recyclers Association, and at the local level she’s joined the Green Business Network, a program sponsored by Bridging the Gap. For their West Bottoms office she converted cubicle panels into standing computer stations.
But it’s the informal network of small businesses along Grandview’s Main Street that’s been surprisingly valuable. In an area she dubbed “Design Drive” she collaborates with Coverup Interiors upholstery, Grandview Top countertops, Trash Studio steampunk furniture and Charlie’s Custom Creations woodworking.
“I didn’t think I would know all my neighbors so quickly and find out how talented they are,” she says. “I’m always asking how can I do something that fits the needs of offices, but that also fits the skill sets of people around here—there are a lot of incredible artists.”