For Nicole Wakley, the new TREE eco home furniture headquarters in Tacoma’s historic brewery district is — quite literally — a dream come true.
Before ever setting eyes on the former Nisqually Power Substation building, Wakley had a vivid dream which foretold three things: an opportunity to sell her current warehouse lease in Auburn, a distribution deal for her eco-friendly and sustainable furniture business within the United States, and a massive brick building with vaulted ceilings and an array of large windows that would become her company’s new home in America.
Throughout her dynamic career, this entrepreneur has learned to trust her intuition. It has led her from a prestigious position as an attorney at one of London’s top law firms, to Hong Kong, where she founded TREE against the advice of nearly everyone. They warned her that the competition would be too steep in one of the world’s leading markets (TREE now has three stores and some 70 employees there.) From the urban bustle of Asia, she followed her heart next to a rural farm in Australia, where she and her family learned to live off the land and protect a property with hundreds of acres of virgin rain forest. Then finally to the Pacific Northwest.
Naturally, when she awoke the next morning after her over-night vision, she didn’t dismiss the dream. Instead, she immediately checked her email. There, she found an offer to buy out the lease, just as she’d dreamt. Later that same day, a distribution offer came through.
At this point, she contacted her American team.
“This may sound nuts,” she told them, “but I need you to go and find this building.”
Within a few weeks, she received a text. It simply said: “We’ve found it.”
Her team had spotted the resemblance between the 20,000-square-foot power station, with its brick walls, high ceiling and huge windows, to the building Wakley had described from her dream.
The challenge? It wasn’t for sale or lease.
Jeff and Dave Iverson, founders of the Puyallup-based RAM restaurant chain and Tacoma restaurant C.I. Shenanigans, had purchased the property in 2016 with the intent of adaptively reusing it for a brewery and taproom. Already, the brothers were working with the City of Tacoma Landmarks Preservation Commission to begin the process of restoration and renovation.
Undaunted, Wakley contacted the owners through an estate agent and eventually worked out a deal. TREE would lease the building from the Iversons, and together, they would restore this integral part of Tacoma’s history.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the substation was built in 1911 to store hydroelectric power generated by the Nisqually River, making Tacoma the first city in the U.S. to have privately owned sources of electricity. That was more than a century ago and it sat dormant for decades, but will now serve as the heartbeat for America’s TREE operations within the U.S. and Canada.
The company’s products are crafted from reclaimed or sustainably sourced materials by artisans around the world. Collections include recycled teak wood salvaged from old houses and given new life, FSC-certified teak, walnut, and oak woods, sustainably designed sofas, environmentally friendly lighting, and durable rugs made from natural and upcycled materials.
“TREE embraces eco-chic design in everything we do,” says Wakley.
Through a decade-long partnership with nonprofit organization Trees4Trees, the organization continues to give back to communities and the environment with tree planting efforts.
“To date, we’ve planted over 70,000 trees in areas where we source from,” says Wakley, “and we will be planting a tree for everyone who joins us to celebrate at our upcoming launches. We’re always looking for opportunities to give back and that will continue to be true for TREE in America.”
Conversations with local artisans are already taking root in the Pacific Northwest, as this entrepreneur looks to expand TREE’s collections with locally made designs. Within the next few weeks, the company’s collections will be available online, with more collections sprouting each month.
“In the coming months, customers and designers will be able to make private appointments to visit the historic TREE Loft and experience our white glove service,” says Wakley. “However, we’re always open to people contacting us before then. We’re able to work on projects in parallel with renovations.”
There’s something for everyone, says American TREE Chief Operating Officer Jessica Caldwell.
“We’ll have the ability to serve an individual or we can work with an entire office building or boutique hotels. It’s everything from ‘I want a new living room’ to styling a new apartment complex. We can scale to the size of the job.”
For now, the work of renewing the base of operations site continues.
“It’s all about restoring the integrity and beauty of the building,” says Wakley. She credits Pat Beard, project manager at City of Tacoma, with helping the process go smoothly.
“There’s a network of really supportive people that have helped us make our way through any obstacles. Everyone at the City and in the neighborhood has been very welcoming and introduced us to others,” she says. “Representatives from Port of Tacoma have visited and we’ve had business people come by who are intrigued by what we’re doing.”
Although they haven’t yet officially launched, TREE is already giving back to the neighborhood.
“We’ve been mindful of cleaning up the sidewalk around the building,” says Caldwell. “There’s a lot of activity around here and we hired someone right off the street to come in and help. By bringing this old building back and employing people in the neighborhood, it restores commerce as well as beauty.”
The surrounding Brewery District itself is in the midst of a revitalization, with 7 Seas Brewery adding a second location on the site that once held the Heidelberg Brewery and multiple other projects underway. That suits Wakley just fine.
“Ever since the beginning, it has felt like TREE was meant to be here,” she says. “Tacoma is our home and we are looking forward to bringing our heart for eco-chic sustainable design here to the Pacific Northwest and beyond.”