Urban Hardwoods News

From Tree to Table: an English Elm Lives On at the Portage Bay Café

March 3, 2016 | By urbanhardwoods


For every piece of hardwood furniture we build, there’s a story. And each one of those stories starts with a tree. This particular tree story begins in 2012 with a late summer stroll through Seattle’s Roosevelt neighborhood, just east of Green Lake. Our Operations Manager, Dave Hunzicker, who lives nearby, noticed a tree showing the telltale signs of advanced Dutch Elm Disease.

Dutch Elm Disease, a fungus spread mainly by bark beetles, affects a tree’s flow of water and nutrients and has been a problem in Seattle since 2001. Not wanting to see this once-grand old tree be wasted in the wood chipper, Dave asked the homeowner if she had plans to remove the tree. He told her about Urban Hardwoods and our efforts to salvage fallen and hazardous urban trees and give them a second life as beautiful, enduring furniture.

As it turned out, Dave was just in time. The homeowner had already arranged with Seattle Tree Preservation to have the tree removed. Dave was able to work with the arborists to make sure the tree was cut in a way that would allow as much usable wood as possible to be salvaged. The resulting logs arrived at our mill in December 2012, and were milled in early 2013.

Then started the drying process. As with every tree salvage, each milled slab is labeled. The slabs from the tree in our story each carried a tag that read “English Elm, Roosevelt, 12/2012.” The slabs were carefully stacked in our warehouse to air dry. To be done right the process takes time—this English elm took over two years to dry. After a trip to our kiln to further reduce the moisture content, the wood finally arrived at our workshop in the fall of 2015.

John and Amy Gunnar, owners of Seattle’s Portage Bay Café, were in the process of building their fourth location on NE 65th St. Portage Bay offers diners a delicious menu of local, organic, and sustainable foods. Like Portage Bay’s three other locations, John and Amy wanted to fill the café with décor and furniture sourced in the Seattle area. John came into our Seattle showroom and asked if we could build them a table from wood salvaged near the new café location. As luck would have it, the slabs from our Roosevelt English Elm (which had stood just blocks away from the new Portage Bay) were just coming out of the kiln. As with many of our commercial customers, John and Amy were able to select from the dry material the specific piece of wood that worked best for them, along with the perfect finish and table base. The wood slab table is now a one-of-a-kind centerpiece of the new café.

“We wanted this table because the tree was local and Urban Hardwoods is local and they have grown in Seattle right along with us,” said Gunnar. “Urban Hardwoods’ mission is much the same as ours—local and sustainable. We are proud to have their products in our cafes.”

Wood salvaged from the Roosevelt English Elm has also been used for other pieces, including four elm gathering tables built for PEMCO Insurance, and a gorgeous dining table with a black steel sled base that’s currently available in our Seattle showroom. This elm could have very easily gone to waste. Instead, we’re honoring this tree by using it to build salvaged wood furniture that’s as beautiful as it is enduringly functional—serving café diners, meetings, and family gatherings for decades to come.

To learn more about Urban Hardwoods’ wide range of custom options and our huge supply of locally salvaged material, feel free to contact us at or stop by one of our showrooms.