Urban Evolutions and the art of story telling

The best parts of the beautiful flooring, furniture, and accessories created by Urban Evolutions are the stories they tell.

Born on the inner circles of rich wood, hand-hewn, proudly raised, and painstakingly restored, they speak for strong trees, proud structures and talented builders.

The company itself grew from a story.

After a fire nearly destroyed their 1890s farmhouse, Urban Evolutions Founders Jeff and Robin Janson rebuilt it by researching, then locating, then restoring materials that maintained the home’s integrity.

That project formed the impetus for a company that now supplies reclaimed building materials, fixtures, and a line of furnishings and accessories for homes and businesses internationally.

Among their many corporate accounts are Burberry. Anthropologie, and Sundance. Private clients include Robert Redford and Ashton Kutcher.

On Friday our friend Ella Janson and her dad Jeff gave me a tour of their business, located right here in Appleton.

Molly and I had been wowed by their showroom on a previous trip to the store. It turns out, that only accounts for 10% of the company’s business.

The main work happens behind the magic curtain and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there. A thousand stories called out from all the old barn wood and mill floorboards stored there. A thousand more stories waited to be told from the repurposed bed frames, tables and merchandise racks ready to be shipped throughout the country and across the pond.

If you live in the area, treat yourself to a trip to Urban Evolutions. If you can’t make it to Appleton, the coolest little city on the planet, check them out online.

Ella and Jeff

My tour guides Ella and her dad Jeff Janson.

Barn door hutch

Here’s an example from the showroom floor of a hutch built with repurposed wood and designed to look like more like barn doors. It’s a beautiful piece.

Fall into Urban

The entrance to the showroom hints at all the cool things you’ll find within.

Tony Gonzalez restores chalkboard

This is a school house chalkboard being resurfaced.

Bed frames

Bed frames made from restored wood ready for shipment. Ashton Kutcher and Robert Redford have both purchased bed frames from Urban Evolutions.

Ella and Jeff in the office

This is a conference room that overlooks the warehouse. The mirror in which you see Jeff reflected is from his high school in Rockford, Illinois.

Floor samples

These are the types of wood flooring available through Urban Evolutions. All of this wood enjoyed a first act as walls or floors in old farms and factories.

Glass roof

The roof of this entrance is made of repurposed glass.

Linoleum trays

These trays are made of old linoleum.

The drying room

The warehouse drying room is a toasty place. Many of the walls are built from old billboards. One room includes a billboard from the 2011 Super Bowl. I like the “Together we hope” message here because that’s just what this business is all about.

Metal flooring

The embedded metal circles identify these as 19th century floorboards. They are painstakingly removed from each board before the wood is refurbished.


The Urban Evolutions lunchroom is a cool as you would imagine it to be.

By no means, King of the Road

To everything there is an almost season

Let’s be like Champions!

You don’t need Google to understand the history of the Green Bay Packers.

It’s written on their unsponsored stadium, celebrated in their recently renovated Hall of Fame, honored among their alumni and built upon by one of the most successful franchises in the NFL.

Today, nearly 50 years after they beat them in the first Super Bowl, the Packers play the Kansas City Chiefs.

As is their style, they’ve prepared for the historic matchup by honoring the past. They’ve brought  members of the 1966-67 team back to Green Bay and invited them to take the field at halftime tonight.

Players like Jimmy Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Boyd Dowler, Willie Davis, and Marv Fleming have spent the past week tooling around Wisconsin, signing autographs and telling stories.

“When we were rookies it was first guy on the bus drove the bus,” Jerry Kramer recalled. “One time Jimmy Taylor took the wheel and, as the bus was cruising down highway 41, he got up, walked back down the aisle and sat down. That was the last time a player drove the team bus. After that, they got us a driver.”

It’s easy to build camaraderie over a championship season. It’s tougher to maintain that friendship for more than 50 years. It’s even more challenging to extend that genuinely earned respect to the next guy to wear your jersey.

But, that’s what happens in Green Bay.

Watch the alumni as they take the field today. Several could look up and see their own names etched in honor on the stadium rim. But they won’t. They’ll be busy looking out, cheering on the current players, hoping for another championship season.

Curly Lambeau’s quote stretches across the new Packer Hall of Fame ceiling.

“Let’s act like champions, Let’s practice like champions, let’s play like champions, Let’s be like champions.”

From one generation to another today and every game day, you’ll hear them say, “Go Pack Go!”


This is a hallway in the new Packer Hall of Fame, honoring all those players enshrined in Canton.

Hall of Fame Tour 022

This is former Packer Hall of Famer Marv Fleming taking a picture of Ruth Pitts next to Elijah Pitts’ image on the wall.

Ruth and Elijah

I love this picture of Ruth and Elijah.

Hall of Fame Tour 031

Packer President and CEO Mark Murphy has been a gracious host throughout the 10-day reunion.

Super Bowl I Boyd Dowler 1

Check out this series of photos of Boyd Dowler I found in the Super Bowl I program. Here he is catching the football during the NFL championship game against Dallas…

Super Bowl I Boyd Dowler 2

He gets cut off at the knees by the Dallas defender Mike Gaechter.

Super Bowl I Boyd Dowler 3

And lands on his head in the end zone.

Super Bowl I Boyd Dowler 4

He is “momentarily stunned.” Fortunately, Mr. Dowler recovered quickly, played five more seasons and is having a great time this week at the reunion.

Super Bowl I Chuckling Vinnie

I love this headline from post Super Bowl coverage in the 1967 Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.

Super Bowl I theres a new sign

I liked this little story too, also in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.

Super Bowl I Lombardis Image Unscathed

There was a lot riding on that game 50 years ago.

Super Bowl I Packer starters

Packers probable starters in the first Super Bowl.

12 reasons we love this pope

A Hall of Fame reunion

Life is a special occasion

The week she turned 89-years old, I caught our neighbor out cutting her grass. She gave me a hearty wave as I snapped a quick cellphone picture.

“Just tidying up!” she yelled.

We call her the Cookie Lady, and we’ve written about her before. Self-described as “Irish, Catholic and Senile,” Connie remains as quick-witted, friendly and flirty as ever.

From her front porch throne she presides over Circle Street, knitting stockings and spinning yarns.

Friday, we surprised her with a birthday cake and, as is her style, she one-upped us with a fresh pizza pie.

Between us, though, we had a great little party.

Flowers from the steadily arriving birthday bouquets filled the kitchen, “They should probably bury me now,” she said cheerfully. “We’ve got enough flowers.”

A gift bag waiting to be filled with frozen hit fudge sundaes for the pizza delivery person sat on Connie’s kitchen counter. It read “Life is a Special Occasion,” which could be Connie’s life motto.

She’s quick with a greeting card, generous with treats, and talented with knitting needles. To date, she has knitted and doled out 1,200 giant personalized Christmas stockings. They hang on hearths throughout Wisconsin, much, I’m sure, to the consternation of  Old St. Nick, who has been tasked with filling them.

What a lovely legacy, though, and how amazing that every year 1,200 people will hang their stockings at Christmas and bless our neighbor, the beautiful Connie Loescher.

Life is a special occasion

This gift bag, which Connie later filled with frozen hot fudge sundaes for the pizza delivery person, could be Connie’s life motto “Life is a Special Occasion!”

Connie cutting the grass

She was out tidying her yard as I walked past on my way to work last week.

Connie on the phone

Connie received at least three birthday greetings and two impromptu guests during our visit. She’s a social butterfly.

Connie knitting

This is Connie the Cookie Lady who has knit 1200 Christmas Stockings.

Chocolate fudge strawberry cake

Dark Chocolate Strawberry Fudge Cake.

Connie Janet and Mom

The party guests included our former neighbor and forever friend Janet, and my mom Peggy.

You really need to see this spunky lady in action to get a full appreciation for her. Here’s a short video that captures a little of that Irish wit…

And then the princess threw cheese

It was tent camping, for Pete’s sake!

Good Bye Old Friend

There’s no easy way to say goodbye to a friend.

No matter how beautiful the memories, or how long the friendship, whether the end comes swiftly or painfully slow, it is always difficult to let go.

Yesterday, we paid our respects to our friend Doug.

A member of General Patton’s army, he was a decorated World War II veteran, but you’d only know that if you asked.

To us Doug represented all that was right and good about the country he fought to defend — dependability, grace, respect, honesty, and a well-poured Brandy Old Fashioned.

The first neighbor to fire up his snow blower, and the last to turn out his porch light, Doug set a standard in our Midwestern neighborhood.

“Tell your kids if anyone ever scares them, they should run right here,” he once told me when our children were small.

Thanks to that attitude, they grew up secure in a come-home-when-the-streetlights-come-on kind of neighborhood in which Doug and his equally amazing wife Janet set the tone.

We all filed in yesterday, the businessmen, retired teachers, and the still flirty Cookie Lady, to say goodbye to a man who made a greater impact on the world than he ever knew.

At 92, Doug’s sudden death took us all by surprise, and we, his friends and neighbors, shook our heads. He honestly seemed liked he’d live forever.

We all thought we had more time to shake his hand, to buy him a drink, to pry a couple of stories, hear an inappropriate joke or two.

Fittingly honored by full military rites, Doug earned a beautiful send off. And as the bugle played Taps, we  sent our own messages out into the world and beyond.

God bless you, Doug. The world is a far better place for its 92 years with you.

Just two weeks ago, we had dinner with Doug and Janet. He looks about 60-years old here, right?

Just two weeks ago, we had dinner with Doug and Janet. He looks about 60-years old here, right?

Our elegant neighbors

This is my favorite picture of Doug and Janet because I didn’t have a camera when they were both outside shoveling snow in a blizzard last year, which absolutely would have been my favorite picture of them. 

We're pretty horrible at selfies, but I am hoping for many more great times with our friend Janet.

We’re pretty horrible at selfies, but I am hoping for many more great times with our friend Janet.

Owen and Doug

We had a great time hosting neighborhood parties with Doug. Here he is his with our then youngest neighborhood resident, Owen. Turns out Owen is a world changer as well.

Janet and Doug

I love this shot of Doug and Janet at his 92nd birthday party

Harvest Mooners

We will always treasure the time we danced at the Harvest Moon Ball with our beautiful neighbors, Doug and Janet (who were actually ballroom dancers).

Dougs party

May won’t be the same without our annual birthday party for Doug.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 575 other followers