Alan Weiss is all about the base. “I’m really into ‘T’ legs,” Weiss, a third generation furniture retailer, says during a tour of Algin Office Furniture’s spacious top floor, “but we’ve got foundry molds, conveyor belt parts, vintage student desk legs. We make the base to fit the slabs.” The slabs in question are the nine-foot slices of elm, walnut, maple, Siberian spruce, and other felled trees at the heart of Urban Timber, Weiss’s four-year-old custom furniture line sold at both the original shop and Algin Retro Furniture.
The slabs, most of which are two to four inches thick, are milled and kiln-dried in Utica, New York (the only part of the manufacturing process that doesn’t happen in Cincinnati), then trucked to Algin’s warehouse. There the bark is removed by hand to maintain the natural contours, or “live edge,” of the slab before it’s sealed. “They’re really pieces of art,” says Weiss.
Want a cleaner edge, more symmetry, knot holes filled with stained glass and durable epoxy? You got it. Counter height, dining height, adjustable height? Done. Weiss works with in-house woodworker Brett Wert (above) to bring a customer’s dream to life. “We’re here to guide you, but you’re the designer. We can do whatever you want,” says Weiss. “With Urban Timber, we can offer custom pieces, reasonably priced.”
The warm tones and unique lines of these timber tables are a soft counterpoint to the often industrial edge of many of downtown’s new condos, but residential hipsters aren’t Urban Timber’s only fans. Their tables can be found at restaurants Red Feather in Oakley and The Gruff in Covington; even Kenwood Country Club bought barstools. “Cincinnati is super traditional, but now we have another option,” Weiss says.
Algin Office Furniture has been in business downtown for 49 years; its cool younger sibling, Algin Retro, opened in 2005. In those 10 years, Algin Retro has been something of a magnet for talented local craftsmen looking to showcase their designs. In addition to his Urban Timber pieces, Wert (who built movie sets in Los Angeles before returning home to Cincinnati) makes modern bespoke furniture out of birch and walnut veneer. Ryan Wynett’s Shade Tree lamps—refurbished table lamps topped with handmade veneer shades—offer the warmth of wood on a smaller scale.
Weiss plays down his own design eye, copping only to perfectionism. “I like clean and simple. And I’m picky, which drives my guys crazy,” he says. But he chalks up Urban Timber’s success to customer creativity and Wert’s skill. Still, you don’t stay in business this long without an instinct for what’s next. Standing outside his side-by-side stores, across from a new streetcar stop, Weiss says, “You have to be able to reinvent yourself everyday.”
Out of the forest
A knotty pine table with a glossy epoxy finish, mounted on adjustable galvanized metal legs culled from an old conveyor belt.
Throw some shade
A reclaimed lamp topped by a quartersawn figured Australian eucalyptus shade with a water-based urethane finish.
A large appetite
This massive burled elm dining table (9.5 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 2 inches thick) is finished with catalyzed lacquer.
In a new light
This recycled lamp features a French beech veneer shade with calf leather and steel rivet accents.