By Sandy Ciupak
Special to The Gazette
MEDINA â€” Inside the Busta Sheet Metal shop, an unobtrusive building on West Liberty Street, artist Kevin Busta takes a break from transforming industrial shelving material into a coffee table and offers his visitor a chair of sorts: a stool reminiscent of a tractor seat, complete with an adjusting knob stripped from a gas valve.
Kevin Busta of Medina transforms industrial materials into works of art and furniture in his familyâ€™s metal shop on West Liberty Street. (Shirley Ware | Photo Editor)
In fact, many of Bustaâ€™s industrial furniture designs speak as much to what the pieces used to be as to what they have become â€” well-built, trendsetting pieces of metal furniture that are suddenly in demand from Los Angeles to New York City.
Thereâ€™s the bi-level end table made from a boat tie. Or the table lamp whose shade used to be a sport muffler. Thereâ€™s the one-of-a-kind chair Busta created from a pair of discarded pitchforks he found while working a boilermaker job in Indiana. Or thereâ€™s the metal closet with magnetic doors whose raw materials were salvaged from a dumpster in Medina.
The search is part of the process for Busta, who combs through dumpsters and scrap yards for inspiration and finds it hard to pass up school or factory auctions. He said he never knows, for example, where he might come across a cache of â€œgood, rusted-up gas knobs.â€
â€œItâ€™s a great way to recycle,â€ he said, smiling. â€œAnd it saves on costs.â€
However, Busta has learned an important lesson about dumpster-diving, which is a simple one: Ask first.
A natural medium
Building furniture out of repurposed metal wasnâ€™t Bustaâ€™s original plan, although art was always part of the picture. Now 30, Busta was still a student at Medina High School when his first show debuted in Cleveland, highlighting his organic-looking copper wall sculptures.
Metal was a natural medium for the son and grandson of sheet metal workers. Busta had grown up around the shop where his father still makes ductwork.
The years following high school took Busta in many creative directions. He created mobiles and large interior canvas paintings for hospitals; he experimented with leaded glass, something he still enjoys. He considered art school, but ended up going the self-taught route.
â€œI had a lot of good opportunities to learn just by talking to people and working at it a lot â€¦ figuring it out just by doing it,â€ Busta said.
He eventually fell in love with designing and creating what he calls â€œsculptural furniture,â€ quirky yet usable pieces made largely from discarded industrial metal. Laid off a year ago from his job as an apprentice boilermaker, Busta focused full-time on his creations and found that the market was hot.
â€œThe industrial aesthetic is popular right now,â€ Busta said.
He said architects and interior designers are eager for unusual, modern-looking pieces with lots of exposed metal and rust â€œin the right places.â€
To get that look, Busta said finishing a piece often consists of â€œthrowing it outside and letting it rust.â€ He may leave a piece outdoors as long as a month before he works the rust into the metal to give it a warm, burnished look.
It isnâ€™t only businesses that buy his creations; Busta makes furniture for individuals as well. His galvanized steel coffee tables make an artistic statement and offer a surprisingly practical piece of furniture at the same time.
â€œTheyâ€™re rigid, strong, nice-looking pieces thatâ€™ll last forever,â€ he said.
While heâ€™d eventually like to find a workplace with more storage space than his fatherâ€™s sheet metal shop, Busta is satisfied to be back home in Medina for now.
â€œEverything I need for what I make is available within a five-mile radius,â€ Busta said.
This spring, Busta will show his furniture at the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts, billed as the largest outdoor antique show in the world.
Getting his work into the public eye isnâ€™t only about making a profit; Busta genuinely wants the feedback.
â€œI like to show stuff just to get input,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s about letting your own vision out and people seeing it.â€
Ciupak may be reached at email@example.com.
The hostel chair â€” inspired by a European vacation resting spot or a Hollywood horror film?
Kevin Bustaâ€™s signature piece is a deceptively simple design he calls the â€œhostel chair,â€ pictured in the bistro set above.
â€œIt reminded me of the kind of sleek, industrial yet comfy sort of chair youâ€™d see in a European hostel,â€ Busta said, explaining the name.
With a slightly abashed grin, he confessed that this wasnâ€™t his only inspiration: â€œI was also watching the [horror] movie â€˜Hostelâ€™ at the time.â€
Currently his best-seller, Bustaâ€™s hostel chairs have found their way into the Harley Davidson CafÃ© in Los Angeles. Designers of a new Tommy Hilfiger store in Austin picked up a couple of Bustaâ€™s boom lamps, and other Busta creations have been purchased for a New York hotel chain.
The original hostel chair took two days to complete. Busta made a few more and ended up selling them.
When he decided to go back to that piece, he discovered that all his originals had moved away with the buyers, so he had to reinvent it. He ended up with a design he liked even better: simpler, sleeker and easier to reproduce in quantity.
Busta now can make several chairs in a single day.
Asked to describe the process, Busta broke it down into steps.
o Get your raw materials.
o Cut the lengths out.
o Clean and prep the metal to be joined and welded.
o Clean the weld.
o To do the seat pan, use the bending break (a machine that bends sheet metal; Busta uses the same machine his grandpa used).
o Attach the perforated metal â€” it looks like a large mesh â€” to the back of the chair.
o Wire wheel all the â€œcrud and greaseâ€ and work it into the metal.
o Finish with a polyurethane coat.
â€” Sandy Ciupak
Composing 22nd Century Compositions
Looking for more ways to market his art, Busta recently established 22nd Century Compositions with Cleveland-area artist Doug Meyer.
Introduced two years ago by Bustaâ€™s wife, Shawna, a graphic artist, the two men discovered they had been living eerily parallel lives: both of them artists, both of them welders, both designing furniture in the industrial aesthetic, both working in the Cleveland area.
They admired each otherâ€™s work enough to join forces, creating a Web site, 22ndcenturycompositions.com, to market their designs and plan joint showings of their work.
Last fall, Busta and Meyer presented their work at the Annex Antiques Fair and Garage in Manhattanâ€™s Fashion District in New York.
Some of their work also is distributed through Cleveland Art, www.clevelandart.com, which supplies architects, interior designers, hotels and retail stores.
â€” Sandy Ciupak
If you buyâ€¦
Pricing of Bustaâ€™s work can vary depending on what state it sells in; New York prices are higher. A coffee table goes for about $500 in Cleveland, but may fetch $800 in New York. A dining room table sells for about $2,100, while the hostel chair sells for $350.
Floor lamps go for $500 and up, while table lamps run around $450 for a pair.
â€œSomething with a light in it will always sell for more,â€ Busta said.
To order, visit 22ndcenturycompositions.com.
â€” Sandy Ciupak