The kitchen at Uusi is made from reclaimed cypress that Dunham cut into 1/8-inch veneer sheets.

Photo courtesty of Uusi

Ever looked up to admire the old water towers that dot the urban skyline? So has Peter Dunham, who, along with his wife, Linnea Gits, is one half of the imaginative Uusi design studio. Together, they create everything from screen prints to playfully modern farm animals and furniture (read more about their studio here), but I was interested to learn that Dunham’s source of reclaimed cypress, which he has used to make tables, custom kitchens—anything, really—is demolished Chicago water towers.

The old-growth cypress of the water towers, many of which date back 100 years or more, is wood that grew so slowly that it’s nearly impossible to count the tightly-spaced rings, Dunham says. Cypress is a conifer—a soft wood—with a high degree of natural oiliness. It’s so oily that its sawdust sticks together in clumps as it flies off cut planks. The reclaimed wood also has a beautiful golden-caramel patina that is hard to re-create in fresh-cut materials. Dunham especially likes finding unique planks from the tower remnants, where steel turnbuckles and nails that held the barrels together have stained the wood. “It has this visible history and age, and reclaiming it lets me make pieces that will be around for a long time,” he says.

I love that Dunham breathes new life into these fragments of Chicago history. For more wood facts, plus tips on caring for your pieces, check out Dunham’s advice in our new February issue, on newsstands.