From Tree to Table: How Icon Modern Crafts Chicago’s Startup Furniture

A Chicago furniture manufacturer is sourcing local materials for local offices.

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Icon Modern is a tree-to-table furniture manufacturer. Following in the footsteps of sustainability movements in the food industry, this company lets startups go local from the get-go. Tech workers are accustomed to meal catering plans and coffee machines based around local specialties, but Icon Modern highlights an oft-overlooked dimension of the local environment: trees.

The company sources trees and other natural materials from the area just outside the urban environment they’re working in. They’re based in Chicago, and they’ve turned Chicago-area trees into high-quality tables and chairs for ahead-of-the-curve corporates and startups alike. They count companies like Braintree and the local offices of Starbucks and Uber among their clients.

The narrative of sustainability, along with its feel-good boost of confidence, resonates with the modern company. We know that people want to work in an office that’s alive and meaningful, rather than dull and oppressive. One way to accomplish that feeling is with furniture that comes with all of its organic flaws.

The lack of polished uniformity in raw wood is exactly what Icon Modern’s clients want. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, owner Rocky Levy says that “we never know what we’re going to get when we open these trees up.” The furniture is what it is; the company doesn’t try to hide the natural quirks and inconsistencies of furniture that comes straight from nature.

Icon Modern’s offerings include less rugged products that are made to order. They produced a 23ft conference table for Twitter’s office in Chicago, and they crafted a 30ft bar for local craft brewery Goose Island.

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A big part of Icon Modern’s appeal is rooted in the current aesthetic preference for reclaimed wood. The natural imperfections of the material make a pleasant contrast with the cold rigidity of traditional office furnishings.

At the same time, the company enjoys working with non-traditional reclaimed materials when it can. Far from the organic and rustic appeal of reclaimed wood, the firm has designed conference tables out of old car hoods. They’re not against working with metal and other man-made materials, so long as end product is original. Certainly, reclaimed metal is less common in office furniture than reclaimed wood.

Currently, Icon Modern employs 30 people, and they’re constantly on the lookout for new materials to work with. They often work with designers to produce the end pieces, so they can focus on the sourcing. With any luck, you might encounter an office of reclaimed steel and repurposed skateboards in a building near you.