Q&A with Furniture Craftsman Sam Unruh

Sam Unruh, the young and energetic owner of Unruh Furniture in Grandview, shares the story of how his business got started and where it’s going next.

Compiled by Brooke McGrath  |  Photos courtesy of Unruh Furniture

Unruh Furniture owner Sam Unruh started selling pieces on Craigslist when he was 24. Five years later, he’s heading up his own company, handcrafting modern rustic furniture.

“We have a very distinctive business culture and quite a story to tell,” Unruh says. “For us, we’re very much a group of young men who like their work and like being around each other. We even go camping together. We’re Kansas City people who like [our city] and making furniture. When you stop by the showroom, you get a sneak peek into who we are.”

The Unruh Furniture crew

His passion for crafting fine wood furniture by hand is evident, and, yes, his own home is filled with his own creations, including the kitchen cabinets.

Unruh talks with us about discovering his penchant for making furniture and the company’s future plans.

Q: When did you discover your talent and passion for designing and crafting custom furniture?

A. I grew up in the country, in the middle of nowhere [Cleveland, Mo.], on a 20-acre farm with an old barn. I had access to tools and wood and loved working with my hands, mostly making tree houses. I was always building stuff out of wood. Growing up, my dad was a homebuilder and my grandpa was a sculptor, so I’m sure a little bit of that rubbed off, too. Building furniture, however, happened a little by accident. When I started dating my wife, Hayley [whom he met at summer camp], I wanted to impress her, so I made her a chair and a nightstand.

Q: When did you start your own business?

A: I started selling pieces on Craigslist, one at a time, in 2010 to make a few bucks to pay for supplies and sometimes buy new tools. Eventually I started making three pieces a week, and it slowly evolved from there into an actual company in 2012. The first year we worked out of my garage then bought a house on Main Street in Grandview, gutted it, put in an elevator and turned it into a workshop. I’m now in my third building.

Unruh’s Everdeen dresser, starting at $1,075.

Q: How do you describe Unruh’s style of furniture?

A: It’s all over the place! [Using a lot of Douglas fir and a variety of hardwoods], we make a rustic/farmhouse type of furniture and have recently branched out to rustic modern. Each piece has a lot of character and is tastefully weathered. We try to make everybody happy. Most of what we do is custom, though, so customers bring in a photo and we’ll make it for them. The main premise of our company is that we’re made-to-order.

Q: What are your specialties? 

A: We do a little bit of everything, but a majority of what people have us make is dining room tables. The barnyard table is one of the most popular pieces.

Q: What’s your favorite Unruh piece?

A: The hanging desk in my office. I love it. But we try hard to come up with new pieces and content all the time. We’re constantly working on new designs, which mainly come from our customer’s inspirations or Pinterest ideas that we find then sketch, build and rebuild again until it’s just right.

Sam Unruh’s favorite piece, a hanging desk in his office.

Q: Tell us a little about your Tables for Moms program.

A: It’s a pretty simple concept: We give tables to single moms for free. [Editor’s note: They’ve given away two a week since December.] I see how hard my wife works and can only imagine how hard it must be for a single mom. I value our family meals together, and the dining table is the place where a family gathers, so my thought is if we can give a table away to a single mom, she can spend time with her kids around that table.

Unruh Furniture’s Holton Trestle table, starting at $995.

Q: What’s next for Unruh Furniture?

A: Hopefully expanding and moving to the heart of KC. I have 13 employees now, but I’m looking to grow while staying on top of quality and service. [As for their wood furniture], we’re starting to pair it with iron and metal. Check back in a year or so; we’re still testing the waters.

Find specific furniture plans—as well as adorable photos of his three girls, Emma, 3, and twins Aubrey and Ellie, 1—on Unruh Furniture’s website. They only sell direct because everything is made-to-order (no inventory), so schedule an appointment to check out the inspirational gallery and stylish vignettes in the showroom today.