An interior designer’s dream, UrbanBurb Furniture offers consignment and handmade furniture for any style home.
By Samantha Costa
Photos by JPG Photo & Video (jpgphotoandvideo.com)
My husband and I were taking a stroll on Main Street a year or two ago when I spotted it: my childhood toy chest. The plaid-patterned vinyl exterior shone in the sun, perfectly intact – no cracks, no worn edges. It was in like-new condition. It brought me through a time loop, back to the ‘80s – containing all of my treasures, like the Fisher-Price Little People airplane or my bucket full of wooden blocks. It was a hand-me-down from my older siblings, born in the ‘70s. I quickly took a photo and shot my family a text message. They were as shocked as I was, and I considered buying it for a second. But, with little purpose for this piece, I simply enjoyed the nostalgia on the sidewalk in front of UrbanBurb Furniture.
Stories like these bring great joy for UrbanBurb Furniture owner and designer, Joe Donahue. UrbanBurb, located at 4313 Main Street, opened in December 2018. There, Joe has a collection of high-end vintage consignment pieces and custom, live-edge furniture.
“When it comes to vintage items, we’re always looking out,” Joe said. “We love things that aren’t being made anymore.”
One of Joe’s most memorably consigned pieces includes a Warren Platner dining set. It had a steel tubing base, a round glass top, and six chairs. He bought it from someone in Philadelphia, and the collection went to a happy owner in Detroit. The chairs alone were $2,000 to $3,000. It was a handmade first edition from the 1960s.
Alternatively, those who have an eye for design or an artistic spirit can have just about anything created by Joe and his team: dining and coffee tables, benches, fireplace mantles, entertainment units, and more. There are various wood types and epoxy resin designs to choose from.
“There is a lot of thought and craftsmanship that went into these pieces, so you take a double look at the things that come out of UrbanBurb because it’s really remarkable,” Joe said.
The Journey to UrbanBurb
Getting into this sort of business wasn’t a direct path. A woodworking class ignited Joe’s passion for furniture. After years of owning a children’s gift store, he also credits his mother’s artistic eye and said it’s all in the family.
“I think I got that from her – noticing different qualities, and when something is a lot nicer than something else,” Joe said.
The Art Institute of Philadelphia graduate who focused on industrial design always wanted to work with products and furniture. He started with odd jobs, like creating lock bodies for office furniture, putting all of the slides on drawers, and engraving signs for braille. But none of it was what he truly wanted to do.
At the time, his mother was working at a consignment shop. He picked up shifts here and there. Once he realized the woman who owned the shop was ready to move on, Joe was inspired to step up to the plate. That’s when UrbanBurb was born. So, why did Joe name it UrbanBurb Furniture, anyway?
“It’s more of a style brand or a custom design firm, where we eventually plan to come out with our own lines of furniture. There’s a vision that’s not met yet,” Joe said.
The name lends itself to the principle that they get furniture from suburban and urban areas. As a student, Joe came up with a chair design with endless positions. The idea was to have an umbrella company, where there is a place where you can have these pieces in a suburban area in an urban environment.
Manayunk is at the intersection of urban and suburbia, which is why UrbanBurb Furniture fits so well into our busy corridor of small businesses.
“We worked out of a closet in our old place. When we moved to 4313, we had a whole basement to work in,” Joe said. “That was more helpful because some of the pieces we were working on were large dining tables.”
The Main Street location offered room to grow. They did several epoxy resin tables in the early days, but nothing as big as they are creating now.
“We’re doing full-on epoxy tables, where we’re dumping sometimes 60 liters of epoxy into a table, and the outcome is gorgeous,” Joe said. “You have to really know what you’re doing.”
Sought-After Custom Designs
To date, Joe’s favorite custom piece is a current project he’s prepping for a celebrity’s family member in Gladwyn, PA. Joe could not share the name due to privacy concerns. However, Joe teased that it might wind up on TV, so stay tuned. The details of the table, however, are public information. It’s a 12-foot table – the biggest Joe and the team has created.
“It came at a time in my life where I have a baby, and a lot is going on. I almost didn’t really want to do it at the time. But now that it’s beginning to take shape, I’m the proudest of it, and it’s our greatest table to date,” Joe said.
It takes time and attention to detail to create each unique piece. The 12×4 rectangle table boasts black walnut on the sides and an epoxy river down the center, covered with aluminum, battleship gray, and midnight black pigments.
“It just came out so remarkable,” Joe said. “They didn’t want it to be translucent. But you can almost see into it, which is really fascinating and is something that I haven’t seen much. When I look at it, it surprises me to this day, even though I’ve been working on it for two months.”
The project will take a full eight months when complete from start to finish. Joe said he prides himself on making sure the customer is happy when they give him the time to focus on it. Understandably, there are instances where it’s tough for Joe to part ways with some original designs. He just likes them that much.
“My industrial design background really lends itself to not just throwing something together but arranging the wood inside the epoxy as aesthetically pleasing as possible,” Joe said.
Collaboration on Main Street and Beyond
Joe credits his supportive team of Joel, Tony, and Zach as part of UrbanBurb’s success.Being on Main Street in Manayunk has its advantages. Joe said everybody who comes in is eager to see the new pieces and is happy when they notice a change in the store, even if they were just in the week before.
“It gives us a boost of energy when we see people really engaged in seeing fresh products. We are in an internet world where people are buying online and cannot go and touch it,” Joe said. “It opens people’s eyes in realizing there is some stuff that was really taken care of in its lifetime and crafted in a certain way. It wasn’t just this boxed furniture that we’re all used to now.”
Being part of our tight-knit neighborhood sometimes means collaborating with other small business owners. Joe was eager to help the folks at The Volstead, Philly’s first zero-proof bar and vegan restaurant right here on Main Street. He worked with owner, Robert Ashford, to create the 12-foot, L-shaped, live-edge bar slab.
“It’s a gorgeous piece,” Joe said. “When people are open to working with us, we’re absolutely into it.”
He’s also created a countertop and table for Unity Yoga and two tables for Deke’s Garage Roadhouse BBQ in Germantown.
“It’s a really nice thing when a business owner trusts you to work on a piece they’re going to see every day. It gives us a lot of confidence,” Joe said.
Joe also works closely with Pendleton, a company that sells wool blankets, merino wool clothing, and Southwestern decor. Joe incorporates their signature patterns with some of UrbanBurb’s high-end vintage and custom furniture pieces. And, what’s a new living room set without a cozy candle? Joe also works with the local company, Skeem, to sell their thoughtfully designed soy/vegetable-based candles.
“We are happy to support other businesses from Philadelphia. It’s fun to be a retailer as well as a consignor and a craftsman,” Joe said.
Head over to UrbanBurb Furniture’s Instagram @urbanburbfurniture for quick links on how to work with Joe on consignment or custom pieces.