A local furniture favorite makes the move from SoDo to First Avenue.
Jim Newsom, founder and owner of Urban Hardwoods, knows a thing or two about local timber. For the past 15 years, his company has created gorgeous furniture using native tree species native of the Pacific Northwest. Last month, the company’s new brick-and-mortar location – a 6,600-square-foot showroom located in the heart of Belltown – opened its doors, and Newsom couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I think Belltown is the best area in the city,” he said. “It’s great for foot traffic, and you can get here from anywhere in the city. We expect to do quite well out here.”
Before he was a business owner, Newsom made his living as a furniture maker in Burien. Whenever he visited the beach, he would marvel at the multitude of unused, perfectly workable wood that was literally floating by in Puget Sound. “I was watching all this beautiful material pass by,” Newsom said, “and I thought, ‘I could really do something with this.’”
So, he purchased a tugboat to haul these logs and large pieces of driftwood onto the beach. He recalls one specimen – a large madrone log – that he cut open with a chain saw after it washed up on shore.
“It was beautiful,” Newsom said. “I had no idea how gorgeous it was inside, and I thought, ‘this is furniture.’ [From then on], I was out to find the stuff that was going to waste, and do something with it.”
Eventually, he also acquired a sawmill and a large wood kiln. In 1998, Newsom founded Urban Hardwoods and set up shop in Sodo’s industrial district. Since then, his mission to create beautifully crafted furniture from local timber material has been a hallmark of the company.
“It’s a business I’m really proud of,” he said, “because it’s completely responsible and it’s green, but the most important aspect to our products is that it’s the finest quality of furniture you can find.”
Newsom explained that his company has informal agreements with tree removal services all over town. Whenever a large tree is extracted, these companies contact Urban Hardwoods to haul the downed timber to their factory. This is mutually beneficial; the removal services do not have to pay the cost of transporting the wood, and Newsom can acquire workable materials for free. However, he operates under an eco-friendly code of ethics during this process.
“We only take dead or dangerous trees,” he explained. “We don’t take anything that’s coming out because someone wants to improve their view or add onto their garage.
Newsom also has a policy concerning how the wood is treated once it arrives at the factory. “We don’t want to waste anything, so [original] dimensions define table sizes,” he said. “We never manipulate or stain anything, because it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature. We just polish it up and present it as it is.”
Newsom cites the proficiency of his woodworkers as a crucial component of his company’s success. “It’s the hardest working bunch of guys and women you’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s fun to watch them work, because they’re working with material that’s so precious and beautiful that not only is it a pleasure to work with but also a responsibility. They do great things.”
The result is a collection of tables, chairs and other pieces of furniture that manage to be both aesthetically striking and purely organic. Newsom explained that the majority of his designs come from madrones, walnuts, and Dutch and Chinese elm. “[The designs depend on] which look and color you prefer,” he said, noting that all of these trees have equal hardness.
Though Urban Hardwoods is completely green, Newsom hopes that customers will initially be drawn to the high quality of the brand’s furniture. “As people learn about the company, they will see how ecologically friendly it is. If we’re going to survive in this world, we have to support our local communities and use our local materials to our utmost.”
Urban Hardwoods | 2101 1st Ave., Seattle | (206) 443-8099