interview by Felisa Rogers | photos by Chris Laswell
Seth San Filippo’s story is about as Oregon as you can get. Born on a hippie commune in the hills above Roseburg, he learned woodworking skills as a kid while helping his dad restore old houses. As a teenager, he began experimenting with building his own skateboards and started a custom longboard company. Now 35, San Filippo lives in the Eugene area, where he crafts furniture from sustainably harvested wood. Although his business, Urban Lumber Company, now has three locations, San Filippo and his staff of ten keep the focus on custom projects and sustainable practices. His interests in forestry and craftsmanship honor Oregon tradition and sustainability.
What inspired you to start Urban Lumber Company?
While looking for good lumber for my skateboards, I began to notice some nice city trees being taken down and cut up for firewood. I ended up making a connection with the contracted city arborist, and I bought a crane truck. After stockpiling a lifetime supply of lumber for skateboards, I decided to start Urban Lumber Company to pursue my dream of building furniture full time.
How do you source your wood?
Our wood comes from locally salvaged city trees. We have our own tree service but also work with other arborists, cities, parks and homeowners. When a tree comes down in a storm, or if it’s dead or hazardous, we pick up the big logs with our crane truck and bring them back to our facility for milling. We mill, kiln dry and plane all of our lumber in house.
What projects are you working on right now?
Right now we’re working on a group of tables and benches for a cocktail bar in California. We’re using wood from the decks of two WWII cargo ships that were sunk in 1950. The wood’s been on the bottom of the ocean for sixty years, which has given it an incredibly wild color and character.
Photo by Chris Laswell
What inspires you creatively?
I’m inspired by the natural beauty of trees and their wood. I like to let the wood do the talking, so I try to choose pieces of wood that lend themselves best to the project at hand. I also love design and am inspired by many styles—from the clean, curved lines found in Japanese architecture to the industrial design elements of machinery and automobiles from the ’40s and ’50s.
Springfield was built as a lumber town. In fact, Urban Lumber Company is located in the historic Booth Kelly Mill building that started it all. It’s a perfect fit for our business, and we’re inspired by the wood products history oozing from the walls we work within. Springfield is the place to come to “get stuff done,” and I’ve always loved the blue-collar work ethic and the can-do attitude of the city.
Can you describe a favorite project?
My favorite projects are the largest, most oddball projects. We’re known for building custom pieces that no one else can or wants to take on, like an eighty-foot sectional sofa or the table we just finished for an advertising agency in San Francisco. It’s six feet wide and twenty-five feet long, with a jet-black, burnt finish, whole length brass inlay, and custom steel plate bases that house electrical components. The size of the table and the fact that it needed to be hand-carried to the third floor of a historic downtown building made it fun and challenging to build and deliver.