Denver’s Azure Furniture takes a previously unwanted wood—beetle-kill pine—and crafts it into beautiful tables, benches, bookshelves and more.
Drive through the Eisenhower Tunnel, or almost anywhere in the mountains, and you’ll come upon vast swaths of gray forest—what we all recognize as beetle-kill pine. The Forest Service and private landowners can’t let the dead lodgepoles stand because they’re a fire hazard—and that’s where the company Azure Furniture comes in.
“The main reason we started working with only beetle kill in 2011 is that I thought it was completely ridiculous to cut down live, healthy trees to make furniture when there were four million acres of dead trees in Colorado alone,” says Corbin Clay, Azure’s founder and “craftsman in chief.” “I was running a kitchen shop in Boulder, and customers kept asking, ‘Why aren’t you guys doing anything with this beetle-kill?’ It was like Entrepreneurialism 101: If you can create a product to fill a void in the market, you’re probably going to do pretty well.”
Of course, initially, he had to figure out why no one else was using the wood. “Would it warp? Would it crumble? Would bugs crawl out?” The answers: No, no and no. “So we decided to create a demand,” he says. “Now it seems like every third new restaurant has a beetle-kill wall. Since starting, we’ve reclaimed over a quarter-million feet of this pine, and this past year we surpassed $2 million in sales.”
Getting most of its wood from private land, and doing all of the designs in house, Azure, which gets its name from the beetle-kill’s distinctive blue-gray streaks, handles big accounts (a hotel, a 200 desk office, a new student housing complex at Colorado College) but also makes furniture for home owners—including dining tables, benches, vanities, beds and bedside stands—displayed in a 1,000-square-foot showroom at the front of its Denver workshop. “We want to be able to tell customers, ‘You’re going to be able to give this table to your grandchildren.’ ”
And the pieces are beautiful. “We try to make our designs as understated as possible, to let the wood be the feature,” Clay adds, “so people can see the unique characteristics of the grain and all the knots and the different stories the wood itself tells. We operate under the dictum that the Shakers used: If it’s not necessary, eliminate it.” To that end, Azure doesn’t stain its pieces, uses water-based glues and adds coats of a Greenguard-certified clear varnish to seal the wood, “so you can spill coffee on a table and it will bead and easily wipe off.”
Good looks for a good cause? Sounds almost too good to be true. “Our goal is to reclaim as many trees as possible,” Clay says.