She may not be a Northwest native but something about the evergreens nestled between water’s edge and mountain ranges called the name of Nicole Wakley, a Mother Nature among interior designers. Her family has always been a breed for world travel and adventure, from a chapter in Hong Kong where they opened the first Tree warehouse and gallery, to homeschooling their boys on a rural farm in Australia before their move to US to bring the Tree brand and extravagant furniture gallery home. The materials source from around the world, from throw rugs woven in New York with upcycled soda bottles, to reclaimed paper from the middle of Indonesia woven into cushions and chairs. The collection boasts organic fabrics and chemical free furnishing, salvaged wood, reclaimed pine, bamboo, rattan, reused denim and off shots from t-shirt companies, all the “odds and sods” as Nicole calls them, brought together to make something magnificent with a mindset both sustainable and eco chic.
Nicole transplanted her family to Washington State to open another gallery and settle their roots in more permanent soil. The gallery came to fruition in a brick canvas from her dreams, the old Nisqually Power Station in the Dome District of downtown Tacoma.
“I was in Singapore at a furniture exhibition and I had this clear as day dream that we would be bought out of our warehouse in Kent and that we would move to somewhere that was brick, rectangular, huge and full of glass. I drew it and I asked my team to go and find it. They drove down the I5 and said, “Holy Shit, that’s it!” That’s how and why we’re in Tacoma, because I had this present moment of knowing that I had to follow my dreams. That is my story all along.”
Nicole has a law degree under her belt and had been acclaimed as one of the top 500 lawyers in Asia. But when working for a top 10 firm she suddenly announced her desire to resign. She was no longer finding fulfillment in the field. When asked if and what would keep her, Nicole found herself compelled to relocate and work in Hong Kong. Her firm agreed.
“That’s another one of those tiny moments when you know it’s a sliding door. I could go and do anything. And for a reason, my heart, or soul, or whatever it is that one believes in, told me to go to Hong Kong … when I was in Hong Kong I was lucky enough to be inspired by the energy and the excitement and the can do spirit there. That material gave me the drive to step out of the corporate world and set up Tree.”
Nicole found her inspiration and her husband in Hong Kong. Tree then cultivated into four locations across Asia. It was the first seed planted, initiating a harmony between her growing family and a lifelong dream for a furniture company. As a young girl, Nicole spent her days in an antique shop and a cozy café within her little village south of London. Hong Kong brought her back to that truth and ultimately led to the first Tree planted. The next step was in Australia, where Nicole says she really learned the meaning of sustainability, planting an orchard of 80 trees, homeschooling and living off the land with her family.
“I had to unlearn and relearn everything. That was my moment of connecting and understanding the meaning of Tree … of nurturing inside and out, balance of the roots with the branches of the tree, the beauty of imperfection, all these things. The life that flows and protects, the shelter, it all meant so much more to me. Tree grew in turn because of that. Your head and your heart have to align in order for these things to flow.”
With tree growing so well in Hong Kong, frequent franchise request came in from America’s lush, upper left corner, inviting Nicole and her family to plant something here. The Tree was a natural commodity in these parts and all the coordinates and timing seemed to perfectly align as well.
“It was that old dream of the land of free, but for me it went deeper because of the green outdoor aspect. I’d left England on a whim, left Hong Kong with a family to be grounded by a farm, and with my boys outgrowing the homeschooling and everything becoming more independent of me, there was suddenly no specific anchor, so it was a natural choice. It seems like a strange story to tell but once you spread your wings in a little way, the world is small.”
Working in the heart of Tacoma and living in the countryside on 12 acres of the mountain fed foothills, Nicole has settled into her dream. It’s a scene complete with a pine forest and big veggie garden, another orchard and a view of the mountains. Paradise.
Nicole sees this as her history rewritten, recalling as a child her parents’ grace and support but their visions of success being different from hers. This made the calling all the more meaningful to Nicole, like it had been growing inside her all along.
“It makes sense to me that this is not a trend. There are so many beautiful things that are in sync with our resources and I know that I want to do my little part.”
Thinking early on of the right name for the business while sitting across from her husband in their home, the couple simultaneously looked up and exclaimed, “Tree!” They may still argue who sputtered the title first, but somehow in that moment, the Tree brand was born.
“There were self-centered wants about being out of balance with my career and family and about it being my balance. But now I see them growing and learning that I am more than just mommy. I want them to learn that we all have levels … There is sometimes a fine line between what seems like almost innocence or naivety but is just following your heart toward absolute truth. And it turns out to be brilliant.”
Nicole shares a memory of one of her sons spending the day in the shop with her when they’d first opened. “Mommy, I had the best day,” he said, after a morning of reading at the bar and playing foosball with the staff, even teaching his mom a new game. Nicole watched and reveled in the moments as her boy embraced the bridge between being a young kid and being a part of his mother’s dream.
“What do I wish for my family?” Nicole pauses. “To not be channeled into doing something they don’t want to do. Not influenced by the social consciousness of being a lawyer and doctor. There is nothing wrong with that and I am so pleased I did that. But if they want to be an artist, let them be an artist.”
This testament rolls off her tongue. A familiar Norah Jones tune lifts into the room at the same time and echoes through the rafters, on a playlist of other dreamy lullabies. Painted flowers cascade up the wall overlooking the works of art. The display is both ethically and aesthetically pleasing, both functional and Feng Shui. And with every sale, Nicole devotes herself to replenishing the earth from which her treasures came. Profits with Principle, she calls it, implying the Tree mission to give back. Globally, Nicole’s company has planted 70,000 trees in areas where their products and supplies are sourced. Here in America, the team is reaching out to non-profits and those who plant trees. Even as visitors step up into the corridor, saplings line the entryway. The point of sale system supports an organization that in turn offers their services to non-profits for free. With every choice, the natural choice for the Tree brand encompasses giving back and from the heart.
Nicole hears it often, from her first showroom and even now. “I love this,” they say. It comes in all languages, but the message is the same. And now even more so, in this building of industrial beginnings, as they redesign discarded material into furniture and welcome into these historic, preserved walls. It’s incorporated a shabby chic element to the mix. Where chipped white wall meets it’s brick center along unrefined lines. Perfectly imperfect.
Nicole’s favorite is the Angel Chair, woven from craft paper in a Lloyd Loom and beautiful inside and out, but in the same breath she pays tribute to everything that surrounds it. Handmade sofas in an array of materials, the textures, the organics, the unique character of every single piece is praised, nothing mass produces. There is so much to love here, like the stories within the reclaimed wood grain.
“When we moved into our house here I felt like I’d come home, despite all of my travels. As a family with boys, now 9 and 10, this is our time to settle in and bridge the years of adolescence and sports and university and for us to be here with them and for them. I don’t want to conquer the world I’m just happy to be here. But also, this is beyond a passion project this is profits with principle, so we will grow branches, other seeds and other roots, but our heart and warehouse and roots and team will be here, and tree will blossom, and we will stay.”
2416 South C St
Tacoma, WA 98402
Our hours are from 10am to 6pm, everyday.
1 (833) 855 TREE