How Exotic Woods Find Chicago Homes

David Cabanas at Old Temple Chicago

There’s a very good reason that people who build furniture and decking choose teak if price isn’t a concern. It’s one of the most durable woods available, and resistant to the elements. It’s also ideal for high-end yachts and sailboats.

Most of the world’s teak grows in Southeast Asia. It’s an area — and a wood — David Cabanas knows well. As the owner of Old Temple Chicago at 843 West Van Buren Street, Cabanas carries a number of teak pieces he imports from Thailand. One is a 3,000-pound table. It weighs roughly the same as a Honda Civic.

David Cabanas at Old Temple ChicagoObviously, Cabanas isn’t too worried about any light-fingered clientele in his West Loop establishment. Shoppers actually interested in purchasing it have a bit of a challenge, though.

“It took about five people to move it in here,” he said. “We have a client who lives in the suburbs who’s thinking about buying it, but she wants to be sure, because the cost of moving it out there is about $800.”

The price tag of the table itself is hefty, too: $6,899. It’s definitely one-of-a-kind. The rough-hewn piece was carved from a tree and still bears all the signs of decades in a forest half a world away from Chicago.

Cabanas ships in items like the Rosewood teak table for discriminating buyers who want something truly unique. A fascinating aspect of importing a precious material from a foreign country is the process. Each cargo container carries a license fee of $3,000.

“That goes to pay for new teak trees planted in Thailand,” Cabanas said. Teak is actually a very fast-growing tropical hardwood tree, reaching nearly 70 feet high in just ten years.

“The Thai government determines which trees can be harvested,” he said. “If a tree is 150 years old or older, it can be cut. That’s because at that point, it becomes a safety issue.”

Old Temple Chicago only acquires teak furniture that’s been certified by the Thai authorities as a product of trees that were ready to be cut. A connoisseur of fine furniture with a conscious — and deep pockets — can rest assured that it originated from a stately tree that was harvested humanely.

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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