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Redefined & Co. helps preserve Milwaukee history in your own home

Joe Rieland started the business when he built some tables for his own apartment.
Posted at 5:51 AM, Jan 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-25 06:51:31-05

MILWAUKEE — It’s all in pieces, but an Arby’s sign might be Joe Rieland’s most notable find to date. He sold it to a father-son duo from Ohio.

“Their father-son outings were to go to the local Arby’s and have an Arby’s sandwich and they always remember the big ten-gallon hat,” Joe says, adding that the pair plan to reassemble and restore it. “So it’s going to go on their barn and people can drive by and see it, and it’s there and I’m pretty happy for them. It’s going to a good home.”

But usually, it’s Joe that does the restoration work. His business Redefined & Co. handles everything from vintage marquees, flashing neon, industrial lamps, factory grade cast-iron and reclaimed lumber.

“It’s fun!” Joe says. “It’s just fun, you never know.”

And he had pretty humble beginnings – in a Milwaukee riverfront apartment where he says the rent was a little steep.

“But it was a cool spot and I really wanted neat tables for our apartment,” Joe recalls.

He found some reclaimed tables he liked but couldn’t afford.

“So, I started building my own.”

It’s a hobby that’s grown into a fully-fledged business. And it means gathering up a lot of stuff that might look like junk to some, but actually has a lot of history. Joe has contacts all over the state that reach out to him when they find cool items he might use.

“[This] came from the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair,” Joe says, showing off one of his finds. “Ultimately after the world’s fair, they dismantled the buildings, put it on a train, it went up to Baraboo. It was used up in the powerplant in Baraboo for a building they were doing up there.”

It’s thick dimensional wood.

“All these dents and dings are two hundred years of wear and tear,” Joe says.

And it’s one of his favorite materials to work with.

“What I’ll do is I’ll cut it up, I’ll machine it down, I’ll plane it to thickness.”

Then it’s time to pick out a base – always cast iron.

“Its shape, its look, its feel. Time gives it its look,” Joe says, showing off some pieces he has plans for. “These three pieces, that’s going to be a coffee table and two end tables, a matching three-piece set when I get done with it.”

Joe only uses pieces that aren’t useable anymore – at least for their original purpose.

“The landfills are getting filled up every single day,” Joe says. “We’re a throwaway society and it’s one of those where [things] would have gotten scrapped.”

He says saving history from the trash heap isn’t even the best part.

“The smiles I see on people’s faces when I bring their tables into their great room, or when I bring their kitchen island, they just sit there and they just look at it. And then they say ‘this is where we’re going to gather, we needed it to be perfect!’” Joe says. “It’s really a lot of fun for me to put that together.”

Learn more about Joe’s work by following this link.

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