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Addicts Turn Barrels Into $15,000 Chaise at Rehab Clinic

Michael McKeaige, former U.S. Marine from Las Vegas and current resident at San Patrignano, near one of the bookcases he built at the facility. He now plans to earn a degree in social work when he returns to the U.S. Photographer: Patrick Cole/Bloomberg
Michael McKeaige, former U.S. Marine from Las Vegas and current resident at San Patrignano, near one of the bookcases he built at the facility. He now plans to earn a degree in social work when he returns to the U.S. Photographer: Patrick Cole/Bloomberg

Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- After Michael McKeaige got hooked on heroin and oxycontin, the Las Vegas native tried just about every program in the area to kick the habit. Nothing worked.

“I even joined the military to get out of Las Vegas,” said McKeaige, 26, in an interview. He was discharged for bad conduct from the U.S. Marine Corps. He lost a security-guard job because of his drug use.

Then his parents heard about the San Patrignano rehabilitation facility in Rimini, Italy, where patients receive counseling, peer support and training in one of 30 trades. McKeaige learned how to craft old wine barrels into furniture.

Italian wood designer Maurizio Riva suggested repurposing wine barrels about two years ago. That sparked the idea of turning barrels into furniture.

To raise money for the program -- which is known as Barrique: The Third Life of Wood -- San Patrignano’s leaders asked well-known designers to create stylish furniture that facility residents could craft. The resulting pieces have sold for more than $1,000.

Daniel Libeskind created a long, curved side table with amber-colored planks of barrel wood that also can be used as a bench. Alberto Meda designed a swing with a smooth, elegant seat. Meda said the movement can evoke a feeling of joy, euphoria or dizziness similar to those “experienced with one or two glasses of fine wine.”

Third Life

An exhibition of San Patrignano furniture will be on display at the Museum of Design Atlanta from Sept. 13 to Oct. 11. The objects include a $15,000 chaise longue created by French designer Marc Sadler, a stool, swings and a “Letizia’s Cradle,” dedicated to Letizia Moratti, a San Patrignano ambassador and supporter.

“We wish that 100 percent would get cured,” Moratti, Italy’s former minister of education, university and research, said in an interview. “What makes it successful is that the people are in a family environment where they can regain self-esteem, motivation, responsibility and be able to trust themselves.”

“The addicts who have become more stable help one another, and the older residents help the younger guys,” said McKeaige, who is now drug-free. “It just works in a way that doesn’t exist in the U.S.”

The free program, which has been supported mainly by donations and has treated more than 25,000 persons since its founding in 1978, doesn’t stress medication. More than 70 percent of the addicts leave the community drug-free after a 3-year to 4-year residency. Enrollment this year is 1,300.

Online Courses

During his stay at San Patrignano, which is located on rolling hills near Milan, McKeaige worked on many of the 32 designs in the barrel project’s catalog. He continues to make furniture on his own time and is taking online courses through the College of Southern Nevada. He plans to return to the U.S. next year to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work.

“I spent two years in the U.S. Marine Corps before I was discharged for repeated drug use,” McKeaige said. “You’d think that that experience would have helped me mature. It really didn’t. San Patrignano helped me more.”

Muse highlights include Jeffrey Burke on Jonathan Lethem’s new novel and Martin Gayford on Europe’s coming art season.

To contact the writer on this story: Patrick Cole in New York at pcole3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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