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Business Spotlight: City Bench

By Kathy Brown.

(l to r) Sam Bonnie, Ben Komola, Ted Esselstyn

Is there a tree that you love on your property, but it must be taken down either because it sustained storm damage, or a beetle is destroying it? Do you wish there was a way to immortalize that tree? There is. And the solution is right here in Higganum.

Base of in-process table

City Bench was started by Zeb and Ted Esselstyn in Higganum in 2010 “as a niche furniture company dedicated to repurposing urban trees that are felled in Connecticut cities.” Trees come down in urban areas due to blight or pests, storm damage, or to make way for new buildings. Prior to City Bench, the trees were just thrown into landfills. Now those trees are given new life as eclectic pieces of furniture.

When I visited the workshop recently, there were various pieces of furniture in process: a beautiful mantel, a table for a residence, a bench, and a 12′ long table that was going to go in a public building. Most of the wood comes from the “urban forest,” which simply means the trees that grow in cities.

People often take a circuitous route to get to their present vocation, including Ted and his brother Zeb. Ted Esselstyn moved to Connecticut with his wife Anne in 1995, with their two small children (there are now three grown children). He started medical training at Middlesex Family Physicians while Anne began work at Crescent Street OB/GYN where she has worked as an OB/GYN ever since. After his internship, however, he left to begin building furniture and working all over the state as an artist, painting murals and building exhibits at children’s museums, libraries, schools, hospitals, and nature centers. In 2008, Zeb had finished his degree from Columbia in Journalism. The stars aligned when Zeb was looking for work in a “very tight job market” and Ted was inspired “to create an artistic business that was both sustainable and creatively inspired.” And so City Bench was born.

Though their primary source of wood is the City of New Haven, they also use trees from customers. Their mill is set up at the Parks & Recreation Maintenance Facility in New Haven so that they can “show kids how we re-use the urban trees.” They also provide lumber for the city, and have made furniture for New Haven public schools. According to Ted, “All in all it has become a win-win relationship for both New Haven and City Bench.”

“The furniture we make can be found in homes across the state as well as board room tables and universities,” explained Ted. “At the moment we are processing some reclaimed wood for Harvard University, building benches for a river walk in Stamford, and we recently finished renovation of a totem pole for Newman’s Own Foundation’s Headquarters in Westport. The work is incredibly varied and full of rich story telling.”

Stored wood showing provenance

When I toured their Higganum facility, I was amazed at the detail of their work, from markings on the wood to record the provenance, to the homemade kiln to dry the wood, to detailed drawings of a work in progress, and a bench that was awaiting delivery to a customer. The amount and variety of wood they had at the shop was awe inspiring. Ted said, “We love working out of the two barns in our Higganum backyard. We primarily fabricate the furniture here in Higganum.” He went on to say that “[customers] love driving to town and seeing us working on their pieces and showing off beautiful slabs of wood from all over. Most of our clients have never been to Higganum and remark on how beautiful the surroundings are.”

They have some products available on their website. Or make an appointment to get an original City Bench.

White oak entry table – available for purchase

Photo of available bench from their website. All other photos by Kathy Brown.

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