While Kyle Wilson’s latest projects focus on corporate fixtures in the Chicago area, he still maintains ties to the southern Illinois area where he grew up and began woodworking.
After a childhood spent helping his dad on jobsites for the modular home construction company started by his grandfather 55 years ago, Kyle started a woodshop in 2013 out of his grandpa’s pole barn building.
He still travels to that area about once a month and uses that pole barn to store the reclaimed lumber that he sources from the southern Illinois area, and that he prefers using in his projects, both for the recycling aspect and the character found in the wood.
Recently, for example, Kyle said he was lucky to come across lumber from someone who had purchased an old mill. “Some of this oak that was in there had just sat in this mill for 40 to 50 years and naturally patinaed. When stuff like that comes along, you just take it, because you know it’s worth it. You don’t have to worry about any nails or screws if you decide to plane it down, but it still has that old look that a lot of people are attracted to. The old saw marks and everything are on the wood, which is cool.”
Kyle’s transition from construction work to furniture and other detailed projects happened over a period of time. Always a painter, he worked for a while at an art studio in Chicago and started building frames for his paintings. Then, he needed a coffee table, “so I decided to make that just by reading and kind of learning as I went.”
He has also learned from other woodworkers, such as his brother-in-law’s father, a retired woodshop teacher, with whom he worked on building a pop-up beer booth for Goose Island Brewery. “He did some cabinetry and a lot of furniture, and he had showed me some things,” Kyle said. Following that Goose Island project, “I started getting orders basically online, and I kind of slipped into [woodworking] full-time,” Kyle said.
These days, while he still does work like kitchen tables, etc., for clients, “I’ve started doing more commercial projects because they’re typically a little bit bigger, and it’s more taking over a space instead of just doing one particular item – which I kind of like.”
In addition to items for Goose Island Brewery (he has also made custom signs and tap box covers for them), one of Kyle’s current projects is for Surge Billiards in Chicago. The location previously existed as a billiards room for about 60 years, and part of the new venue involves bringing in old materials related to that incarnation. Kyle is building a 25-foot long bench utilizing legs from a vintage pool table. He’s also incorporating the molding from a vintage pool table into the tabletop for a conference table for the space.
“Those are the kind of projects I love to do,” Kyle said. “It kind of forces you to be creative, using these miscellaneous items, but it usually turns out really nice.”
One of his favorite non-corporate projects, for example, was a Murphy bed and desk build. Kyle had never built a Murphy bed before, and the client’s request included making adding a desk to the room, which doubled an office and occasional guest room, as well as making the bed “to where you wouldn’t even see it: it almost just looked like a reclaimed wood wall.”
“That was a cool project just because I had never done anything like that. And again, it kind of forced you to be creative when you’re dealing with limited space, and working with the client to give them that look that they’re going for.”
Kyle has also built such things as shelving units and buffet tables through his Antwique Shop woodworking business, and he is part of the “local makers” program through West Elm.