Behind the Scenes | Delta Millworks

Let it Burn—a young visionary took over his family business and started a new movement in the design world.


From his corner, floor-to-ceiling wood paneled office in the Delta Millworks headquarters in East Austin, Robbie Davis, the 29-year-old president of the company, looks over at the photo that hangs across from his desk of his late father, Bob Davis, who started the company in 1985. “Working here makes me feel connected to my dad every day,” he says. “I feel him here a lot.” In 2008, just out of college, Robbie picked up a roofing torch they had sitting around in the 10,000-square-foot shop and started experimenting with burning wood. Little did he know, the charred wood technique he was perfecting, deemed shou-sugi-ban by the Japanese who have been practicing this ancient technique for hundreds of years, would become the lifeblood of their business. “We started burning wood about a year before my dad passed away. I think a lot of the older guys around here thought we were crazy to be burning wood,” he says with a laugh. “But, my dad was a supporter from the beginning who encouraged me to keep innovating and to stick with it.” Almost immediately after Robbie posted the shou-sugi-ban, which is more protected from insects, rot and fire than other woods, on the company’s website, people started ordering it and not just in Austin or Texas, but across the country and now, they are working with clients in Canada and Europe and boast an impressive global client list of brands like Google, Nike, Starbucks and Whole Foods. Making the shou-sugi-ban and offering dozens of options of color, sealant and amount of burn is now 90 percent of the business that formerly focused on restoration projects using reclaimed woods like long leaf pine (they played a major role in the remodel of the State Capitol). Robbie’s passion for wood is at the center of the operation. “Every piece is one of a kind. Every few days, you see a piece of wood that has spectacular grain patterns or an unexpected color or finish. We constantly produce pieces that blow our minds!” Along with his team who are mostly under 30 and includes two of his childhood best friends from growing up in West Austin are experimenting with more finishes, weathering and painting techniques. “We can mass produce, but we are really making a hand-crafted product,” he says. “We aren’t just a lumberyard or mill. We are all young innovators who are excited to be doing what we are doing.”


Photography by Jessica Attie

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