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These Founders Aren't Selling Furniture, They're Telling a Story

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This story appears in the September 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Ted Esselstyn was a carpenter, an artist and a med-school graduate in 2009 when a friend told him about Urban Hardwoods, a company that reclaimed old or discarded wood and made furniture from it, he checked its website and “that’s when the lightbulb went on,” he says. Urban Hardwoods was in Seattle. Ted, then 35, lived in Connecticut. Trees were everywhere -- 67 percent of his state’s land mass -- but he found no company in the Northeast that was reclaiming them. He called his brother, Zeb, and told him about his idea. 

Derek Dudek
Ted (left) and Zeb Esselstyn, on old trees they saved from the trash.

The Esselstyn brothers are idiosyncratic. Ted had spent 15 years making massive, whimsical pieces for public institutions -- a 30-foot dragon in a children’s library, a pirate ship kids can climb on. Zeb had been in construction, a guide for Outward Bound, a music festival producer, a Hollywood-film-set grunt and more -- but when Ted called, Zeb had just graduated, at 40, from the Columbia School of Journalism. He’d gone to journalism school because he wanted to tell stories, but 2008 was a bad time to graduate with any degree, let alone one in media. So Zeb agreed to help in the new venture, and he moved from New York to Connecticut in 2010.

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