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Woodworker's Furniture Using Reclaimed Wood Custom-Made for Smaller Digs

By Chloe Riley | December 28, 2012 2:10pm | Updated on January 9, 2013 1:17pm

BENSENVILLE — Furniture maker Don Wood can give you a whole new perspective on life. And he’ll do that by making you sit with your knees above your buttocks.

“There’s a lot to be said for just forcing people to sit at a different height. I think that’s something that people take for granted,” said the eccentric woodworker, who builds unusual furniture.

At Wood’s studio on Meyer Road in Bensenville, David Bowie blares over the speakers and heat is in short supply, but for $550 a month, he’s willing to make the trek.

Wood (his real name), who lives in Chicago’s North Center neighborhood, began using reclaimed wood to make benches that were narrow and low to the ground a decade ago in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Partly inspired by his days working construction — Wood was a carpenter in Houston starting in the '90s often ate lunch on a bucket — his “too low” bench offers users a chance to commune with the ground. 

“After eating lunch sitting on joint compound buckets for 20 years, I just got really used to it and think it’s a nice height,” said Wood, 45. “So I was like, ‘I’m gonna make a bench that’s the height of a joint compound bucket. And I don’t care what anybody says.”

But because of the unusual height of the benches, many of his clients wind up tossing their junk on top of them, he said.

“Probably 60 percent of the stuff that I’ve made right now has either keys and mail on top of it or shoes underneath it,” he said.

Wood said typical furniture today is sized for “McMansions” and those who live in city apartments and condos tend to need smaller, more customized pieces.

In addition to the benches, he makes a variety of tables and other pieces using steel and polished concrete as well.

Wood appeared on the PBS show "Colonial House," which challenges people to live like settlers for months.

"It was an amazing experience, and gave me the opportunity to work with rougher woods, stone, mud straw and, well, goat dung as building materials," he said in the bio on his web page. "The idea of using materials and techniques that were centuries old really grabbed me."

But his talents go beyond band saws and ball-peen hammers; he acted in horror films, and created sets for Blue Man Group.

His most recent horror flick was “Hypothermia” (2012) where he played a psychopath. He’s also appeared in “Cannibalistic” (2002) as a reformed cannibal.

“We [the film's director and Wood] had done some writing and theater together way back in the Jurassic Period, so when he was looking for people he could con into doing it for expenses only, my name came up,” Wood said.

Wood, who moved to Chicago last year from New York, said his customers come in three categories: single women, couples in their 30s, and “then it skips to people who are up in their late 50s.”

“My stuff replaces a lot of IKEA stuff. People want to replace their IKEA stuff but they don’t want to go to Ethan Allen,” Wood said.

Laura Garcia, a 41-year-old architect who lives in West Town, commissioned a table from Wood after passing by his booth at the Randolph Street Market.

Garcia said she was attracted to the simplicity of Wood’s design coupled with his use of reclaimed wood.

“I said, ‘I love this table. I’d love to buy it. Do you have another one you can stain a little bit darker?’ And he said, ‘sure, no problem.’”

As an architect who works out of her home, Garcia uses her Wood table as both a dining room set and a conference desk for prospective clients.

The average price for a Wood bench is around $1,800, but he also sells candleholders made from reclaimed wood and antique glass slides for just $30. 

Wood said his prices are comparable to the places where bulk manufacturing takes away the feel-good sensation of having a unique piece of furniture to call your own.

“Whether or not somebody buys something from me, people just should not buy stuff from Restoration Hardware,” he said.