Our Story

All our furniture was headed to the dump.

City Bench grew out of our passion for building beautiful objects with meaning and a story. It also grew out of a reverence for the trees that line our streets, fill our public spaces, and enliven our campuses. Those trees represent our shared space and generations of common stories—they are also a vital and overlooked resource.

There are over 70 billion trees in U.S. metropolitan areas. New Haven removes more than 600 trees each year, New York City fells 7,000, and hundreds of thousands more come down across the country. Most of these grand, historic trees are relegated to the landfill, ground into mulch, or chopped into firewood each year.

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We extend the life left in those trees by building uniquely hand-crafted furniture that tells their stories. Community and connection to place are built into everything we create—whether that community is a big city, a small town, or a much-loved school. Our pieces have a “birth certificate” describing the tree’s origin, significance, and story. Our aim is to build a meaningful and lasting enterprise, which creates positive environmental and social change, and contributes to the vitality of the communities in which we operate.

The Team

TED ESSELSTYN is an artist and furniture maker. For the past 15 years his art has explored the whimsy and fascination of childhood, while boldly experimenting with materials to enliven children’s spaces in public libraries throughout the Northeast, as well as nature centers, hospitals and hands-on children museums. Inevitably, the goal of his installations is to create “a sense of place” and tell a story that resonates with children and adults alike. It was while working on the Connecticut Trash Museum exhibit depicting our increasingly “throw away society,” that the idea for creating handcrafted furniture from street trees was inspired. Connecting his clients to their pieces while embedding a natural story in them became the main goal. Street trees, considered waste by most municipalities, were the solution. Here was a way to “upcycle” a perceived waste product while creating sustainable, unique, and meaningful furniture. It also gave people a story to tell and tied them to “a sense of place.” City Bench is the result.

Ted lives with his wife, three children, two cats, and two dogs in Higganum, CT.

ZEB ESSELSTYN has had a variety of incarnations. He has been a builder, coordinated rock concerts, managed book tours, worked in the advertising business and on film sets, and he led trips for Outward Bound and the National Outdoor Leadership School. He is a storyteller committed to the idea of turning waste streams to value streams through collaboration.

Zeb is a graduate of The Journalism School at Columbia University and lives with his family in New Haven, CT.

BEN KOMOLA is the youngest among us—but also the strongest, the smartest and the most all around burly. We are thankful he found his way to our shop.

Ben came to City Bench in 2013 and quickly made himself invaluable.  He is our shop manager and leads all fabrication.  Ben graduated from Southern Connecticut State University in 2011 where he majored in sculpture and minored in metalsmithing. His material of choice was steel and animal bone to create unique creatures. Wood is a more recent medium for Ben, but he has a natural feel for the material and has quickly become an extraordinary craftsman. For two years after graduation from Southern he worked with an art conservator specializing in the rehabilitation of monuments around Connecticut, and the country, where he worked with cement, bronze, and stone.

When not at the shop Ben spends time turning wrenches on project cars. (Ted went for a ride in his ’71 Chevy Nova muscle car creation…once.)

MICHAEL DONOVAN is a sculptor and educator.  He is a graduate from the studio art department at Southern Connecticut State University as well as the University of Connecticut where he received his MFA in studio art with a focus in sculpture. For the past thirteen years Michael has taught sculpture courses at multiple Connecticut higher ed institutions including Southern Connecticut State University, Fairfield University, and Manchester Community College. He also worked with an art object conservator specializing in the preservation of historic and artistic objects throughout New England and the country.

As a sculptor Michael has always had an affinity for wood. Wood retains the attributes of a once living organism as it expands, contracts, and creates tension while under flexure. His work explores the act of preserving these attributes by creating implements that maintain an actuated state through their utility. He has exhibited his work throughout Connecticut and New England.

Michael is a Connecticut native residing in Naugatuck where he cohabitates with his wife, two children, two dogs, and a goldfish.