“My dad never met a piece of wood he could throw away,” says Cully Smoller of his family’s Malibu, California, furniture business, Cabn. “That’s all part of the ethos of the brand—nothing wasted and nothing discarded.” Conceptualized during COVID through conversations over campfires, Cabn has a mission as distinct as the architecturally-driven products it produces.
The big idea? That a creative workshop can empower vulnerable members of the community by equipping them with design and carpentry skills, which they hone through the fabrication of high-end home goods. And as Smoller highlights, the company leans into a waste-not material ethos, transforming discarded pieces of wood into eye-catching luxury items.
Their product assortment—all handmade to order through their website—currently includes chairs, cutting boards, tables, mirrors, and more, with prices of up to $4,750 for a table. Tony, the Smoller patriarch, runs the team, while Cully oversees marketing and PR, and his brother Riley handles photography and branding. (The latter is also a designer and builder.)
Cabn recruits young people to get involved in their mission through Los Angeles nonprofits, which so far have included Covenant House and Safe Place for Youth. The company seeks candidates who meet a few prerequisites: an interest to learn a new craft and skill, a desire to create something with their hands, a hunger for entrepreneurship, and a willingness to put in a day’s work for a day’s pay. For the eight-weekend pilot program, each participant received a paycheck, lunch, dinner, and transportation to and from the shop. Most importantly, they didn’t need to demonstrate any previous experience with woodworking. New cohorts enter the program in eight-week intervals.
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As the program continues, Cabn plans to cover participants’ tuition for a training course at a local community college. Once the course is completed, they come onboard as CABN team members, beginning their work with smaller home goods. Eventually, with experience under their belt, they move into more complex furniture production—with an increase in pay to match.
Cabn sees its apprenticeship model as filling a critical gap in the talent pipeline.
“There are many programs for children,” Cully says, but those aged 18 and up tend to be overlooked. Cabn, he continues, puts them on a new path. “It’s these people that may be lacking support and someone to give them a chance.”
And the company is also on a mission to fight material waste, a major issue in an industry where an average of 12 million tons of plastics, rubber, leather, and wood is tossed each year globally, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Rather than routing scraps to the landfill, the Cabn team puts them to use towards something functional and beautiful, like cutting and charcuterie boards.
The mornings start early, with participants picked up at seven o’clock for transport to Cabn’s workshop. In its four-participant pilot, each woodworker was trained, mentored, and guided in fundamental carpentry skills like material selection, sanding, and finishing, ultimately transforming raw material into final product.
Smoller sees the venture as a means of tying profit, purpose, and passion. “As we grow, we hope Cabn can be home to physical, emotional, and financial growth through an honest day’s work, creativity, and learning,” Cully says. “Due to the program’s success, we are now in the process of closing our angel round so that we can get more trainees into the program.” And maybe—if its origin story is any indication—a few more campfires too.