Recycling Coffins Into Couches

coffin couch

Vidal Herrera was known in the 1970s and early '80s as "El Muerto"-- the dead one. As the only Spanish-speaking CSI investigator in Los Angeles, Herrera found himself working with thousands of corpses, until an injury and subsequent surgery took him off the job with the coroner's office 25 years ago.

After that Herrera became an entrepreneur, opening a private medical examination company, and another, stranger venture: supplying death-related props such as mortuary tables, stainless steel autopsy tables, and other macabre stuff to TV shows and movies. With the popularity of the CSI genre,, took off.

But Herrera has a new project now: recycling unusable coffins. He has plans to turn the business into a nonprofit and begin donating the proceeds from the process to charities for the funeral directors and embalmers of tomorrow. At a wrap party several years ago, after the conclusion of one of the Saw movies, a set director approached Herrera and asked him if he could turn a coffin into a couch. Though Herrera thought the director was joking, it turns out she wasn't-- so Herrera enlisted the skills of some of his neighbors, including an upholsterer, a welder, and a man who customizes motorcycles. Together, they created a couch from a casket.

Herrera delivered the couch to Paramount Studios, thinking that was the end of it, until a converted coffin made an appearance at the nearby Monsterpalooza convention and Herrera began getting calls from around the world.

Thus, was born.

It's been three years since then and Herrera has sold almost 200 converted caskets-- and each of them has been recycled. But what sort of caskets need recycling? As it turns out, quite a few caskets go to waste. For example, families will purchase coffins at funeral homes, and then, at the last minute, they will decide they don't want the coffin, and that they would rather have the body cremated. But once a body is placed in a coffin, it's considered contaminated and you cannot resell it for burial. Thus, a large amount of Herrera's supply comes from funeral homes with coffins they need to throw away.

Another way that Herrera comes by coffins are by snapping up coffins that are damaged in shipment from China. With more than 150 coffins in each container, at least one or two is scratched or dented. Since shipping the coffins back to China is expensive, they're usually thrown away-- unless Herrera steps in.

Each Coffin Couch is handmade and designed by Herrera. They range from $3,000 for a love seat to $6,500 and above for fancy, custom sofas. Each of the couches are reinforced with steel rods and can hold up to 900 pounds. The demand for the coffin couches is surprising-- Herrera has sold to mini golf courses, tattoo parlors, hair salons, and even shipped several to Korea.

So what's next? Herrera plans to turn Coffin Couches into a nonprofit, with proceeds after expenses going to a scholarship fund for tomorrow's funeral directors and embalmers.

"If it were not for them and their support, this would have never happened," he says. "I look at this as fun money. I am at a time in my life when I can give back. And this is a small way of giving back to society."

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