Chicago woodworker inspired by urban wood

By Mike Lee

This piece was very much an inspirational construct.  The client had given me total artistic freedom; her only request was that I make her a small mid-century modern writing desk.
Initially, my intention was to source wood from a traditional hardwood lumberyard, but first I looked in my shop to see what I had in stock. There, I discovered that I had been sitting on some very old reclaimed quarter sawn wood boards purchased from the Rebuilding Exchange. The 5/4 thick trim was recovered from an old Chicago apartment.  It had a beautiful quarter sawn pattern – perfect for the desktop. 
It was then that I decided to try and keep the piece as locally sourced as I could. In search of more locally reclaimed wood, I came across an amazing hardwood company, Horigan Urban Wood in Skokie. To my surprise, they had a fantastic selection of locally sourced urban hardwoods. There I found some beautiful dry kiln white oak with unique colorization due to the kiln process. This worked perfectly with my design, which was to mix and match woods to give the desk a subtle two-toned look.
Finally, I chose walnut for the apron, drawer, and desktop trim.  
Building this desk really opened my eyes to the benefits of reclaimed and locally sourced urban woods. There are many species of wood in the Chicagoland area that go to waste and need to be salvaged, and there seems to be an enormous market for these locally sourced pieces.
About the Author
Mike Lee is owner of Lee Custom Wood Designs based in Chicago. Lee is a self-taught woodworker who formerly worked in AdTech & Media before doing some “heavy soul searching” led him to start his own woodworking and furniture design business. Learn more at