"Ten of us were going to a baseball game, and I just happened to get to Phil's house a little earlier than everyone else," recalls Heath Grout on how he and Phil Andrews connected for Tree Trunk, the finest cannabis storage unit ever made. "We started talking about cannabis, and then we were just like, 'There's nothing in this market. We should create it.' By about the seventh inning, we were making plans."
Grout, a NYC fashion photographer and creative director, and Andrews, a third-generation craftsman in Vancouver, Canada, mapped out a game plan within weeks and worked through multiple designs that would contain all the components high-end consumers would want and appreciate. In July 2017, nearly two years after the baseball game, Tree Trunk made its public debut.
Individually handcrafted, each 40-pound storage unit is made from black walnut wood and contains a solid aluminum insert, custom interior and exterior lights, airtight ultraviolet glass jars, a secure lock and a USB port. From the gorgeous grain patterns to its soft touch, Tree Trunk is a timeless heirloom piece meant to be passed down for generations. PRØHBTD spoke with Andrews and Grout to learn more.
My first question is for Phil. Can you tell me about your grandfather and his contribution to woodwork?
Phil: It was all he really did and knew since he emigrated to Canada [from Holland after the war]. Also, I grew up in it. I'm sitting in the shop here. It's been here since 1972, and we're still working in it. There's still stuff my grandfather had on the wall 30 years ago. There's a lot of history.
What are some important skillsets he passed down?
Phil: Perfection is one of them. My uncle and myself, my grandfather, we're all perfectionists. Nothing ever goes out the door before everybody's completely happy with it. We never just got something out the door to make money.
Tell me about the craftsmanship that goes into each Tree Trunk.
Phil: From start to finish, it's touched only by a human. There's no computer-guided anything, and we handcraft everything besides the aluminum insert, which starts with a solid block of aluminum so nothing will ever fail, crack or break. We're creating an heirloom product that's gonna last a lifetime.
The units are made with black walnut wood. Why this particular tree?
Phil: It's your high-end hardwood. It's about as good as you can get, and it's sustainable. It has a richer quality. Anything that you see in black walnut is a very rich work. We're creating a luxury product for luxury clientele. I feel that it speaks to them.
When you touch the wood, how does it feel to the hand?
Phil: We sand it with very fine sandpaper so it becomes smoother than glass.
From an aesthetic point of view, what elements make Tree Trunk special?
Phil: I view it as a piece of art. When it's locked or closed, it looks like a piece of art or furniture. It sits in an environment a lot better than something in a tin can with a weed leaf on it.
Heath: All of the hardware and every component has a function. We were very adamant, as avid smokers, that we wanted to make sure everything functions for a reason. For example, the rolling tray doesn't have any hard edges so the weed doesn't get caught in it. Same with the illumination inside and the aluminum, which our first iteration didn't have. At night when you're watching a movie, the low-level illumination below is great and doesn't disturb your TV. But then when you take the tray out, you couldn't see what was in it. We were like, "Let's figure out how we can get light on the inside so you can see what strain you're pulling out." Everything serves a purpose and a function.
Phil: We added everything that was needed, but we did not put in anything that wasn't unnecessary.
What is a small but special detail in the units that most people might overlook?
Phil: Maybe the USB port. The way we positioned it on the side, some people don't even notice it right away, but they agree it's a very valued asset to what we have. Even when the box is locked, you can still charge your vape or cell phone. Also, a lot of people don't understand the insert. We trim a solid block of aluminum, which is machined out like a race car part. It becomes very functional out of one block.
Heath: The aluminum insert is my favorite highlight—to see it when it comes in a block and to put our design on it and how we make it functional so the light comes through. It also adds an element of weight to the product. Somebody could easily take the cheap route and buy four aluminum slats and slide them in there. That's not the way we do things. We want it to be a fine-art piece. We wanted to think of all those things that help make it extremely sexy. It looks like a friggin' laptop from Apple.
My other favorite feature is that every unit is a hundred-percent custom. The grain will never match exactly on any Tree Trunk.
Phil: It's all real hardwood black walnut. The grain pattern is different. The shape, size and specs are exactly the same, but the physical look is slightly different due to variations in the grain pattern.
Heath: Part of our story is carrying on this family tradition and supporting the local community. For the aluminum piece, the metal workers are around the corner from the wood shop. The lady that hand stitches Tree Trunk into the cover is in the same town. We're giving back to the community where the family wood shop has strived for 50 years-plus.
Heath, you have an incredible photography portfolio. What skills did you develop through photography that you were able to apply to Tree Trunk?
Heath: We're both very image driven. Really, it was us sitting down and storyboarding how we wanted it to look. One of the stories we wanted to tell was how many times someone touches this. Each piece of wood is touched 35, 40 times. It's not like it just goes through a little assembly line of machines and then it comes out. I've always believed that image is king, and the look is in that high-end, luxury category. We went through two dozen places thinking about how we wanted to shoot it, what the film would look like, treatments, all of that. Why is it important? Image sells everything. We will always put a ton of thought process into telling our story.
What story does the unit tell the consumer?
Heath: We feel Tree Trunk tells a story that there is something out there for highly successful people who like quality stuff, enjoy a great product and believe in great imagery. We want to elevate the cannabis conversations going on now and show that there are other [cannabis smokers] who are super successful and own businesses. Now they have something that can match why they buy a 500S AMG Mercedes. We want to sit at that level.
What role do luxury products play in terms of destigmatizing cannabis?
Phil: It brings a class, something high end, something that no one's really seen before. We're not reinventing the wheel—[it's] more or less a box—but there's this feeling of something that's very impressive. It's like showing off a piece of art or a new car. It's something to be proud to display. For so long, cannabis was something you hide. It's in a shoebox under your bed or in an old iPhone case in your drawer. We want to bring it to light, and we want it to be something that's showcased, not something that's hidden. That's what we're trying to accomplish.
The website says storing cannabis is only the beginning of your vision. What else can you tell me about your vision?
Phil: We have other products coming out, like a smaller trunk and a rolling tray. It's based off what Heath was discussing. We want to change the image, which isn't the dude in the tie-dyed shirt with a wizard beard. It's successful people. It's people who work hard every day.
Heath: Whenever people realize they can start making money from something, everybody and their sister starts... "I've got an idea, let's go get a dispensary." That's all great, but a lot of these people are trying to get in for a quick buck. We're not. We're in for the long run, and we want to elevate the game and the way cannabis is discussed. We want to educate. That's why we bring a luxury passion aesthetic to the way the imagery and video was shot and the way we speak about it. When Yves Saint Laurent or [Christian] Dior decides, "We want to make one of these," we want to be the people who consult for them. We want to be the people who make it.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.