Bend furniture maker uses downed trees to create 'functional art'

Bend furniture maker uses downed trees to create 'functional art'
In this Feb. 11, 2013 photo, Mike Ross, owner of Natural Edge Furniture, and his sales manager, Renée Van Matre, pose at the company's showroom in downtown Bend, Ore. Natural Edge sells benches, dressers and other home furnishings, made from downed trees found across Oregon, Washington, parts of Idaho and Northern California. (AP Photo/The Bulletin, Andy Tullis)

BEND, Ore. (AP) — When a storm knocks down a tree somewhere in the Northwest, Mike Ross gets to work.

Ross depends on the elements to supply his Bend company, Natural Edge Furniture. Natural Edge sells benches, dressers and other home furnishings, made from downed trees found across Oregon, Washington, parts of Idaho and Northern California.

Ross travels across the region, answering calls to pick up trees blown down in storms and haul them via truck back to his manufacturing shop. They are left to air dry, then cut into planks for furniture designs.

Where less artistic craftsmen may see damaging imperfections from knots or slits in a tree, Ross sees the chance to make a unique and charming piece of furniture.

"It's functional art," he said.

His downtown Bend showroom offers a glimpse of the finished products: a bench made out of a salvaged cedar tree from Alfalfa; benches and dressers made from maple and juniper. Ross operates like a contractor, taking orders and drawing up the designs. Some of the large tables and dressers sell for $1,000 or more, while smaller pieces have lower price tags.

A 30-year veteran of the wood products industry, Ross has worked in mills across the Northwest. But he came to Bend just a few years ago, starting Natural Edge in 2011 and opening the downtown showroom last year. The business has five employees.

"We see the business as extending the full life of these trees. The resources are there for us to make one-of-a-kind furniture," Ross said. "And we're able to maintain the character of each tree."

"I have a lot of experience in the furniture business, but just recently I recognized this would be a great opportunity to start my own thing," he said. "I'm all about being green. I didn't want this business leaving a carbon footprint. So I got the idea to get all of my material (from the Northwest). I think it has left a good impression with people."

Information from: The Bulletin

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.