A luxurious, brand new kitchen is a thing of beauty to behold, but as everybody knows, it comes with a hefty price tag. A top-of-the-line, large designer kitchen with all the bells and whistles can run up a tab of a quarter of a million dollars. Happily, though, there is an alternative.
Enter Renovation Angel, the nation’s premier recycler of luxury kitchens and interiors, established by Steve Feldman in Greenwich in 2005. With its free, white-glove packing, removal and transportation of pre-owned kitchens, the nonprofit Renovation Angel brings extraordinary value to consumers and the design and building trades alike, turning a self-declared wasteful industry into a quadruple-win situation for sellers and buyers, charities and the environment.
Feldman started his career as a rock ’n’ roll DJ, becoming the senior marketing manager for two Clear Channel stations in Providence, Rhode Island — one of them, the first “Imus in the Morning” syndicate in America. A recovering addict for 33 years, he spent 18 years in radio before leaving to fundraise for addiction recovery outreach programs.
He kicked this off in Greenwich. “I got one very wealthy donor and she then lost $30 million in the stock market crash of 2001. She handed me a check and said, ‘Good luck. It’s your last.’”
As luck would have it, the donor’s neighbour was the empress Farah Pahlavi, widow of the last shah of Iran. Feldman saw a sign in her driveway. It read: “Demolition in Progress.”
“I drove up to this Rockefeller mansion, 10,000 square feet and everything was already gone.” But it was this happenstance that gave him the idea to earn the money for charity rather than asking for it — by selling the kitchens, appliances, furniture and fixtures out of donated, demolished mansions. A Greenwich newspaper heard about the idea and wrote an article. “We got 36 phone calls from architects, designers, real estate agents, even hedge-fund managers,” recalls Feldman.
The following four years were spent on a pilot program, learning how to recycle and repurpose kitchens and in 2005 he established his nonprofit. “Our mission is simply to reduce landfill waste, to create new recycling jobs and to repurpose kitchens and interiors.” To that end, since 2005, Renovation Angel has kept more than 44 million pounds out of landfills, has created nearly $27 million in new recycling jobs and has repurposed more than 7,700 kitchens, as well as a vast number of interiors.
What makes Renovation Angel special, Feldman says, is that it is set up to handle everything from start to finish. Homeowners get a “wonderful,” significant tax deduction and a white-glove free removal service, their only expense being for a small independent appraisal.
In the process, they are helping landfill owners reduce their waste and helping homeowners reduce their budgets, by not throwing out kitchens and having the waste sitting in the dumpster. They are currently renovating around 500 kitchens a year, but Feldman estimates there are 100,000 luxury kitchens being thrown out every year in the United States. “My ultimate goal would be to recycle every one, which would create around $400 million in recycling jobs a year in this country.”
Already well-established in the tristate area, Feldman posits that, ideally, he would like to see centers in other affluent regions of the country, including South Florida, Southern California, San Francisco, Texas and Chicago. But even as Renovation Angel waits to expand, it is already active in those markets. In May of this year alone the company had crews operating in California, Florida and Chicago.
Sustainability is key. “It’s also a financially savvy approach,” says Renovation Angel’s COO, Michael Foti. “There’s no rebate, no program in the industry that can offer this much in the way of savings. It doesn’t matter if you’re offering a free hood, a free dishwasher, $1,000 back. “We’re offering an opportunity to save $10,000 to $50,000 on a renovation.”
While the advantages to homeowners who are renovating speak for themselves, it could still be a hard-sell to promote what are, at their core, secondhand kitchens. Feldman takes up the baton: “With the advent of HGTV, shelter magazines, cocooning after 9/11, there’s been a tremendous movement in this country towards home improvement, towards the beautification of your home, towards interior design, so there’s already that crest of the wave we’ve been riding for the 20 years we’ve been doing this.”
Of course, Renovation Angel is selective about which kitchens they take. It rejects about half the kitchens shown because there’s not enough value in them to justify the labor, removal, trucking, handling and selling. But when the kitchen measures up, the rewards are great. “You pay $5 million dollars for a property with a 7-year-old kitchen and you’re now going to get back $30,000 of savings from recycling that kitchen with Renovation Angel,” Feldman says.
As for the logistics, Renovation Angel has developed an impressively carbon-friendly model. “In the ideal scenario, let’s say there’s a kitchen in Mount Kisco which is being renovated and is not coming out until July. Well, we put it on our website in May and someone in Poughkeepsie sees it and they say, I’m going to buy it. In that example, the kitchen gets trucked directly from Mount Kisco to Poughkeepsie and never even comes to our luxury outlet store.”
The “store” is Renovation Angel’s 43,000- square-foot facility in Fairfield, New Jersey — two minutes from Interstate 8, where kitchens that don’t sell before removal are trucked. People visit the outlet from all over New England and beyond — even the Midwest, the South and California, Feldman says — to view the physical products for themselves.
While Feldman initially set out to fund addiction recovery, in 2012 he started diversifying, adding, among other foundations, Timothy Hill (a charity for foster care,) Focus North America (a nonprofit concentrated on the homeless) and Designs for Dignity (a Chicago-based nonprofit geared toward helping people with no money to fix up their homes). He has even added an animal rescue charity, Foothills, located in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Back at the New Jersey headquarters, employees are vetted and undergo full background checks. The business is exceptionally well-organized and efficient and has a sound, structured training process. And always with the environment in mind, the company’s entire Honda CR-V fleet has just been converted to hybrid, with two hybrid plug-ins, substantiating Reservation Angel’s serious commitment to sustainability and quality service.
“That’s how we’re going to get to those 100,000 kitchens,” Foti says. “People in America are going to know that we’re the outfit for the homeowner to capture the value. We’re hiring skilled laborers for our white-glove concierge service and we’re changing the face of the demo-contractor-removal business.”
Feldman adds that he personally gets a lot of kudos from his team going into clients’ homes and leaving the place squeaky clean. “People say they wish the Renovation Angel crews were actually installing the new kitchens, which is the ultimate compliment,” he says, beaming.
For more, visit renovationangel.com