Urban Wood & Steel

Saw and Flame

When Mike Copela was starting his own eatery, he noticed a lack of taste.

Not in the food, but in the furniture—specifically, the furniture restaurant suppliers were trying to sell him. Then a contractor-turned-restaurateur, he’s now turned to wood- and metalworking with Urban Wood & Steel, a Hamden-based venture that aims to solve restaurants’ and others’ furniture problems.

Urban’s manager, Emily Guyon, agrees that eateries “oftentimes get stuck with the restaurant equippers. Everything’s particleboard and veneer. It’s really basic and it’s really boring.” But Copela envisioned furniture made of “real wood, real metal… heavy, sturdy things,” and he already had a lot of supplies on hand. There were the leftover materials from contracting jobs, but more than that, there were the odds and ends he’d been collecting for years.

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“Some people might call it hoarding,” he says from behind a desk of his own creation, fashioned from an antique wooden door complete with hinges. “But I call it being artistic.”

Buckets of screws, drawers of wrenches and other metal bits and pieces that not even Copela can identify (“Look at this weird shape—it’s just begging to be something different,” he says of a U-shaped metal prong) crowd a storage space next door to the workshop. “I love to go to tag sales and find useless items and turn them into something different… The object talks to me. This wants to be a doorknob, or this wants to be a handle. It has a shape that looks like it should be this, as opposed to what it’s actually being used for.”

Urban Wood & Steel reuses these macho scraps any and everywhere. A wrench becomes a towel rack, c-clamps become coat hooks and salvaged toolboxes become the drawers in hostess stands. There are decorative touches, but the bones of the furniture—beautifully stained wood and heavy, raw ironwork—are most impressive. Dark and aggressive, industrial and artisanal, Urban’s furnishings have Batman’s moodiness and Bruce Wayne’s taste. Of his welds, Copela says, “We don’t try to grind them, we don’t try to hide them. We want you to look at them and think, someone actually applied heat to that.”

Since it started in 2012, most of Urban’s business has come from furnishing restaurants, but it also makes products for private residences, all of which are built to order. The process takes six to eight weeks, which Copela wants to trim down in the future by building a ready-to-ship inventory. “We’re an Amazon community at this point. When people don’t get something in two days, they don’t understand that we’re literally building it by hand from the second they place the order,” he says.

The same handmade aesthetic that draws customers—and leaves them in anticipation—is becoming rarer and rarer, according to Copela. He points out his Bridgeport Mill, a wasp-yellow woodworking machine in the corner, and tells me it was salvaged from a Rhode Island high school after it stopped offering shop classes. “They’re not teaching kids these trades anymore. We’re just trying to keep at it,” he says.

But keeping a tradition alive also requires some ingenuity, and Copela is dreaming of new, strange things he can do with his room of misfit scraps. “I feel like when there’s a plethora of something, it’s cool,” he says. “If you did a wall with just bolts sticking out, it would be totally ridiculous in every aspect, but to me that’s awesome.”

If you want a sample of the work without the wait, have a barside drink at Chapel West watering hole Barracuda, where white tile glows behind stern vertical steel clamps holding up weathered planks, which in turn hold up bottles of liquor. The barback’s industrial-chic restraint gets a shot of Vegas from long lines of pink-purple LED lights tacked behind the planks.

It’s urban wood and steel, and it’s a sharp look.

Urban Wood & Steel
42 Crestway, Unit B, Hamden (map)
(203) 288-4834

Written by Sorrel Westbrook. Photo 1 by Sorrel Westbrook. Photo 2, which depicts the bar at Barracuda, by Dan Mims.

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