Why He’s Top 40: He’s making cool furniture out of reclaimed wood for high-profile clients while also raising money to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
If you could change one thing about Edmonton, what would it be?“Our confidence in ourselves. We get beat up a little bit by the rest of Canada, and I think that we have some of the most inspirational people in the country in this city. That, or build a biodome.”
Wood carries memories in its grains. Darren Cunningham enjoys seeing a well-worn plank live beyond its last incarnation; often, his work ends up an everyday part of a family home.
“Honestly, there’s nothing better in my job – no matter how many obstacles we’ve had building the furniture – than when we bring a dining room table to a family on delivery day. That still gives me goosebumps.”
Cunningham and his father started working with reclaimed wood as a hobby in 2010. Soon after their first tables appeared on social media, they were inundated with custom requests. Cunningham decided to leave the day-to-day operations of his first company, Hydra Chem, to focus on carpentry full-time. Urban Timber was born, and now the company sees wood come in from unique and storied places; recently, planks from the original 1844 Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee came Cunningham’s way.
Growing up in Regina, Sask., carpentry was a constant in the Cunningham home. “Our house was a full-time job for me,” he says. There were projects constantly being built inside and out. His mom, May, was an expert finisher until she began suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. After years of decline, she had to be placed in a full-time care facility in 2014. The experience was taxing on Cunningham and his father, but it inspired the Wood to Remember fund, which raises money for the Alzheimer Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories.
“It was important to us to set it up with the furniture, because my dad and I both have a stamp on it.” To date, they have raised over $20,000 for Alzheimer’s research in the province.
Reclaimed wood can be a frustrating medium, too, he admits. “If they wanted to do a reality show around this business, they wouldn’t have to add any drama in. They wouldn’t have to throw in a raccoon on the roof,” he laughs. “When we build a table, we never know what we’re going to get into.”