The demolition of Westminster Congregational Church not only puts an end to its one-of-a-kind architecture, but also the century-long memories that come with the building, said Sam Unruh.
“When I first stumbled across the old church, it had been vacant for seven or eight years and was in really bad shape,” recalled the founder of Unruh Furniture, which had been operating in the church for the past five years. Production already has resumed and a new showroom on the Country Club Plaza is expected to open next week.
First seeing potential in the church years ago, Unruh spent two years talking with city officials and renovating the space; he moved his business in and began constructing furniture in 2016.
The church, originally built in 1904, ultimately had structural damage that was too significant to fix. After several months of Unruh and his team trying to repair a crack in the church’s ceiling, the sanctuary’s roof collapsed Feb. 13.
Unruh Furniture was forced to move its operations, as the city ordered the Westminster Congregational Church be torn down. The move was a tough pill for Unruh to swallow, he noted.
“It wasn’t a building that we leased out last minute; it was very much the opposite,” Unruh shared. “It was a home and something that we had put a lot of time and effort into. It’s sad to see it go.”
Being in such an extraordinary space also comes with a special energy; one that became part of the business’ story, he explained.
“Aside from it being a sad, personal change — it’s a big marketing change,” Unruh said. “We are no longer emphasizing the story of being in this cool church; instead, we’re emphasizing the great-quality custom furniture that we do.”
View this post on Instagram
Click here to read more about the story behind Unruh Furniture.
With Unruh Furniture continuing to grow since it was first founded in Unruh’s garage in 2012, Unruh knew he would now need to have separate locations for production and a showroom — both previously housed in the church.
“Normally, zoning won’t allow you to do both in the same building,” Unruh explained. “That was one part that made the church so cool — it was such a huge building. We were able to have this rare and unique opportunity to do manufacturing and retail in the same space.”
A showroom on the Plaza
Unruh moved the business’ production aspect to a warehouse in Harrisonville, while the showroom relocated to the Made in KC Marketplace on the Country Club Plaza.
“It’s a really cool space,” Unruh said of the new showroom within Made in KC. “We’re excited to be putting the finishing touches on it this week.”
The partnership comes after a previous collaboration a few years ago when Made in KC opened a gift shop inside Unruh Furniture’s church showroom, noted Keith Bradley, co-owner of Made in KC.
“Made in KC has been a big fan of Sam and his team at Unruh [Furniture] for several years now,” Bradley said. “The high quality furniture that they design and create in Kansas City is a great example of the depth of creativity that exists in our town.”
Unruh Furniture signed a sublease agreement with Made in KC in order to have a space where prospective customers can experience the quality of their furniture and customize it to fit their needs. Unruh will even have members of his own staff on the showroom floor to do design consultations with customers, he noted.
This partnership does not follow Made in KC’s traditional model of selling goods at the marketplace through a single point of sale, Bradley said — rather, it shows how innovative Made in KC is willing to be to work with other local businesses.
“While this is not the typical way we work with other KC companies, it does further our mission of cultivating creativity throughout Kansas City,” Bradley explained. “Over the years, we’ve tried to figure out how to carry furniture in our stores but we haven’t found the right recipe. This partnership allows for us to showcase this part of Kansas City’s creative scene and pair it with all the other great aspects of our Made in KC Marketplace — coffee, beer and other high quality local goods.”
Check out a gallery of Unruh Furniture’s products below.