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Resident lives off the land in more ways than one

Josh Waldbaum stands in front of a lighting fixture he made from tin cans and knotted rope, and a decorative driftwood mosaic of a marlin. Photo by Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Maya, a pitbull Josh Waldbaum rescued, rests on a bed Waldbaum made among his other creations. Photo by Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Pictured is an outdoor table and some chair Malibu resident Josh Waldbaum fashioned from found materials. Photo by Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Pictured is a dog bed Malibu resident Josh Waldbaum created from discarded materials. Photo by Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Ashleigh Fryer, Senior Editor
6:48 pm PDT May 9, 2014

Malibu resident Josh Waldbaum looked down at the Rolex watch clasped to his wrist one day in 2008. Just days before, the item served as a testament to his success as a private fitness trainer, his social status and his worth. It was now worthless to him.

“I had no job, I had nowhere to live and I had about $100 in the bank,” Waldbaum said. “I thought, ‘All this watch does is tell time. I’ll make my own watch.’”

So Waldbaum sold his Rolex, along with the majority of his material possessions. He moved into a small, one-bedroom cottage high in the canyons, in what he calls “the real Malibu — with all the old homesteaders living out in nature and living off the land.”

That was when Waldbaum started anew. He had no bed, so he foraged for driftwood, found an old wooden door and made a bed. He had no couch, so he collected his neighbor’s discarded fence posts and built one. He adorned his unassuming home in the hills only with what he was able to find in nature, and what he was able to craft with his own two hands.

“I don’t like using the word ‘reclaimed;’ it’s become so trendy,” Waldbaum said. “It’s just stuff that I find.”

That “stuff” includes table saw blades turned into kitchen clocks, rusted tin cans turned into track lighting, driftwood fragments turned into rustic chandeliers, old metal milk jugs turned into lamps and tree stumps turned into coffee tables. Waldbaum’s pieces are as artisan as they come.

“When I started, I had no confidence — I’d never been trained in [furniture building], I’d just learned from books and from trying things out,” Waldbaum said. “Now I just say I can make anything. I have people that come to me with their ideas and I try to take their concept and integrate it with my style.” 

Since all of what Waldbaum uses to create his pieces are found in nature, no two pieces are alike. His work is one part art and one part functionality, with both facets working in conjunction to bring Waldbaum closer to nature and to “simplify” his life. 

“I go down to the beach and that’s my office. I’m out there harvesting driftwood and collecting beach rocks,” Waldbaum said. “When you come home from spending a day just being in nature, you come back feeling at peace. I wanted to be able to bring that into someone’s home and have them feel that same peace.”

Waldbaum also finds that peace in his two rescue dogs, Maya and Izzy, who have found ways to influence his work, as well. 

Waldbaum creates custom-made dog beds and food and water trays out of driftwood for his own furry friends, as well as those of his clients, which are painted with quotes such as, “a dog wags his tail with his heart.”

“I think we can learn a lot from dogs,” Waldbaum said. “They know how to be happy just being in their element.” 

For Waldbaum, capturing happiness, wherever it’s found, is paramount. But his road to simplicity was not easy. The transition from his lucrative career running fitness programs for the Navy before moving to Malibu to open a private fitness corporation, to selling handmade furniture from his small workshop and online store proved to be a lesson in acceptance for Waldbaum. 

“I realized I never really finished anything,” Waldbaum said. “I had all these projects going at once but nothing was ever really done. I thought that if I never finished them, I’d never have to admit they were imperfect. They just weren’t done yet.”

Now, Waldbaum has come to embrace the imperfections. Many of his pieces are created as a “driftwood mosaic,” in which Waldbaum adorns the base structure for a floor lamp or table with small pieces of beachwood pieced together in a jigsaw puzzle fashion, mimicking the way the wood settles on the sand when washed ashore by the waves — just as he found it in nature.

“Sometimes I leave things in my work off-center just because it’s not perfect — it’s real,” Waldbaum said. “Imperfections remind you that you’re human.” 

For more information on Josh Waldbaum’s sustainable home decor, visit