A table can mean stability, said Sam Unruh, founder of Unruh Furniture. It’s four legs help provide the emotional support for a home.
“Growing up, my family ate together every night at the table. We all had our spots and still do to this day,” said Unruh, whose custom, made-to-order furniture business operates out of the former Westminster Congregational Church at 36th and Walnut streets. “Our table was more than just a place to set our food; it was a place of consistency and feeling known.”
But not all families are so fortunate to have such a gathering place, Unruh acknowledged. His Kansas City-based company is in a unique position to help, he said.
More than five years ago, Unruh Furniture launched Tables for Moms — a program through which single mothers are nominated to receive a free, customized table that fits their situation and space, delivered to their Kansas City area homes.
To date, 56 tables have been given to single moms across the metro. Selected women are walked through the same design process as any other Unruh client, said Josh Klein, the business’s creative director.
“They schedule an appointment, select a style, wood species, finishes and dimensions,” he said. “We really want to allow them options and the ability to choose what’s right for them. A lot of times, their spaces sadly are small, so we steer them toward a table that’s going to be best for them.”
A mother is chosen each month for one of Unruh’s high-quality furniture pieces — with all lumber sourced from Liberty Hardwoods in Kansas City, and every step of the building process completed in-house, Klein said.
Through the course of the program, Unruh delivery workers recognized that needs for families receiving the tables went far beyond furniture, Klein said, noting many of the mothers also lacked adequate groceries, had unpaid utility bills, broken appliances like washing machines, and required assistance with lawn maintenance.
The company created its Moms Fund in response. The fund is powered by the sale of $35 T-shirts — $15 of which goes to cover production and shipping, with the remaining $20 directly slated for helping mothers, Klein said.
“Our thought is this: Not everyone can build a table, but everyone can buy a shirt,” Unruh’s website reads.
Crafted from a lifelong calling
Sam Unruh’s first hire at the business, Robert Cortez, helped inspire him to give back, he said.
A seminary graduate of the College of the Ozarks, Unruh had taken a risk in starting the furniture company. When it launched in 2013, his wife, Hayley, was pregnant with their first child.
Cortez worked alongside Unruh in his garage as they began the process of crafting a business that eventually would double in size each year, outgrowing numerous spaces before finding a home in the former Westminster church, Klein said.
“When there’s only two of you, obviously you get to know each other well,” he said. “Robert started telling stories about his upbringing. He was raised by a single mom … They didn’t have much, and what they had were hand-me-downs or some other act of kindness. Their neighbor recognized their situation, and brought over a table to give them. He said the amount of stability it provided to his family was really important. It helped him to feel like it was home.”
The story drew parallels between caring for people and building custom handcrafted pieces, Unruh said. At the root of both: intentionality.
“Every day there are people in our lives that have needs and the difference between doing nothing or doing something is whether we choose to use our time to care for others,” he said. “The same is true when we build a piece. We could use quicker and cheaper processes, but we intentionally choose to be craftsman that deeply believe in our mission to provide quality, lifelong furniture.”
Today, Cortez runs his own furniture business in Florida, while Unruh and his wife have four children, and the business has grown to a family of about 20 employees.
“Growing up, my parents taught and showed me that we give to others, especially when we have been given much,” Unruh said. “I believe we are deeply loved by the one who created us and that we all have been given great talents, because of this I desire to use those skills to give and show the love that I have been given.”
A sanctuary for Unruh’s vision
From inside the former church — built in phases in 1904 and 1912, Klein said — it’s the sounds of hammers, sanders and sprayers that now hum through the space once filled with hymns and shuffling feet between pews.
“It’s taken some work,” said Klein, noting furniture construction began in the renovated space in October 2016. “It’s a quirky old building, but it has good bones.”
Unruh specializes in mixing high-quality products with equally high-touch customer service, he said. The company only delivers within the service areas of its two showrooms — located in Kansas City, as well as Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood — to safeguard against damage to the one-of-a-kind pieces.
“It’s all hand-crafted. And it’s all going to a specific home,” Klein said. “There’s not a warehouse or stockpile. We don’t do the Big Box thing — everything is made to order.”
Prices range from a coffee table at $800 to $3,500 for live edge tables, dressers and other large pieces, he said.
As the company continues to grow, Unruh recognizes needs within the community aren’t fading, Klein said. They’re hoping Kansas Citians embrace the Moms Fund and Tables for Moms programs — not only purchasing shirts, but also sending nominations for single mothers and specifying needs seen in the community.
“This all began in a garage, but it doesn’t end there,” said Klein. “Sam had a vision for building furniture, but giving goes so much further.”