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Design Inspiration

Looking Back at 40 Years of Evolution in Business, Home Decor and Interior Design

Photo Credit: Roger Mahler

This summer, we’re celebrating a major milestone here at Once a Tree: 40 incredible years in business! It really doesn’t seem that long ago that my parents, Ann and Sam Nielsen, opened the doors of our very first location on Fraser Street in 1981. Over the last few months, I’ve had the chance to look back on four incredible decades of evolution. Here, I’m sharing my reflections, starting with this one: relationships are the heart of this business. 

Once A Tree Furniture truly wouldn’t be what it is today without all of you. Our dedicated partners, designers, customers and staff are the heart of our company. In fact, one of the best parts of my job is getting to work with some of the most creative and talented designers in the industry, like Victoria McKenney of Enviable Designs, Amanada Evans of Amanda Evans Interiors and Lori Steeves of Simply Home Decorating

My staff - many of whom have been here for 15+ years - are an integral part of the vision and success of this business, and I’m humbled to be sharing this incredible milestone with them. Their dedication and passion for creating beautiful spaces is a true inspiration to me, and they are a large part of the reason that we’ve been able to have one of our most profitable years ever during the pandemic! 

Of course, I also have to thank our amazing, loyal clients - many of whom I count as friends. They are the reason we get to do what we do every single day. Each one of our clients is a central part of our business and our vision and without them, we certainly wouldn’t be where we are today. To our valued clients and friends, my gratitude for your support - especially through this last year - simply can’t be overstated. 

Style is key in this business. In the last 40 years, we’ve seen many different furniture styles and trends come and go. We first opened our doors in July 1981 selling unfinished furniture and today, one of the hallmarks of Once A Tree is our focus on luxury, custom, Canadian-made furniture. Each decade has marked a change and evolution into the business as we know it today, but a few things have stayed the same along the way: our commitment to innovating our products to create unique, liveable spaces and more importantly, our pride in our people and our passion for building long-lasting relationships with our partners, customers, the design community and more. 

These last 40 years have flown by and I can’t wait to see what the next 40 years will bring. Here’s a look back at some of our favourite milestones over the last four decades:

1980s - The beginning of high quality, solid wood furniture

In July 1981, my parents opened our doors for the first time, selling unfinished furniture on Fraser Street.

From the beginning, our focus has always been on selling quality, solid wood furniture. One of our signature pieces from this time was the roll top desk, pictured above. We sold hundreds of these desks!

1990s: Custom furniture makes its debut

A big part of the 90s was our focus on selling quality, Amish furniture - imported all the way from Nappanee, Indiana! In 1993, Once A Tree was featured in our very first magazine article, furnishing a dining room (pictured above). From the fabric valance, to the fabric behind the glass doors, wallpaper along the ceiling and baseboard, and incredibly stylish (at the time!) spoon leg table and bowback chairs, this dining room is a true throwback! 

We also had the opportunity to furnish the PNE Prize Home in 1996 and worked with Sandra Cole on this fun and memorable project. By the end of this decade, we had started to shift away from Amish furniture and began to offer custom made furniture - something we take a lot of pride in to this day!

2000s: Working with new high-end furniture suppliers, including Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams

We moved away from unfinished furniture and started selling trendier pieces in the 2000s - including our Arts and Crafts tables and darker stained furniture.

In the mid-2000s, we also introduced Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams to our showroom, a relationship we have truly valued over the years. Mitchell and Bob believed in us and trusted us to be their only distributor (to this day!) in Western Canada. Mitchell truly pushed me to be a better retailer and I’ll never forget the day he told me that I needed to put prices on my website. It was a great decision. Sales skyrocketed and we’ve never looked back!

2010s: Collaborating with top local designers on our Designer Showcase Series

In this decade, we started our Designer Showcase Series partnering with Vancouver’s most talented designers on a showcase series featuring their innovative and creative designs. 

Through the Showcase Series, we had the opportunity to work with and be inspired by fabulous designers like Gillian Segal, Stephanie Brown, Alexis McKay-Dunn and more, helping to bring their incredible visions to life. Of course, the best part of the Showcase Series was always the launch party!

Today: Canadian-made, premium quality custom furniture for any style and aesthetic

Today, one of our favourite offerings is our STUDIO Collection. We proudly offer custom, Canadian-made furniture, much of which is actually custom built right here in Vancouver. Being able to sell furniture that’s designed and built in Vancouver is so important to us because we get to offer the personalized touch we take so much pride in. 

Our goal is always to bring our clients’ visions to life, and custom furniture built locally allows us to take ‘custom’ to the next level by designing and customizing a piece of furniture that fits perfectly into a client’s space. Some of our most popular STUDIO Collection pieces are a favourite of many local designers, including our Linden 2 Dining Table seen in this dining area designed by Amanda Evans Interiors, our Lucca Dining Table featured in this stunning vacation home designed by Architerior Design and our custom Madison Desk in this stylish, yet functional home office designed by Synthesis Design.

From the bottom of my heart, whether you’re a customer, a partner, a designer or a team member, thank you for your support over the last 40 years! Come celebrate with us! I’d like to invite you to visit our showroom to shop our 40th Anniversary Sale! From June 17th-26th. Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our e-newsletter to keep in touch.

  • Post author
    Daphne Nielsen