Tag: Wade Ellis

How Frank Lloyd Wright Home Trees Became Furniture

 

By Steve Skorup

As an architecture teacher for 25 years at a suburban high school I would take my class to tour the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio in Oak Park and a Habitat for Humanity home each year.

I wanted my students to be familiar with one of the world’s most famous architects and also to know where his career and the Prairie Style design developed. We visited the HFH site so they could also see affordable housing and how it meets client’s needs. In 2015 while at the FLW house I noticed an American Elm tree in front of the house had the “white dot of death” on it, meaning it was diseased and about to be removed.  I talked to the grounds care taker and he said it was the city’s responsibility since it was in the parkway.

Oak Park is a Tree City and keeps track of all its tree removals, replacements, and maintenance. I called city hall and explained about urban logging and about a higher usage of this resource. The person I spoke to said that Oak Park subcontracted large tree removal. I called the tree removal company and he said they would be removing the tree and selling it to a company that makes contractor construction planking. I explained to him what I do and where the tree was being harvested from and he said his father was a big FLW fan. I said that I would make a table for his father and his company if I could get the log. He agreed and we arranged a drop off. My partner at the time was Brandon Dobnick of Dobnick Timberworks and we had Wade Ellis of West Chicago to mill the tree into 2-1/2” thick live edge planks. These planks ranged in size from 4’ to 12’ long and 16”- 30+” wide.

After the milling and drying process was completed I was able to make the tables for the contractor, a table that took 1st place at the Sandwich County Fair, and several other tables and projects. I have the rest of the planks air drying in storage.

In 2018 I was contacted by the tree removal company and told that the next tree over from the initial tree at the FLW Home had also contracted Dutch Elm disease and would be removed. Would I be interested in it as well? Needless to say, I said yes and had those logs delivered. After sawing they will begin the air-drying process.

As an architecture teacher and a fan of FLW myself I thought others may be interested in furniture made from these historic trees. I just completed a kitchen remodel for a client friend and fellow FLW fan who had me make a live edge wine bar top and serving board for his new kitchen.

I was able to go into the FLW archives and find a picture from 1975 of the Home and Studio with the tree out front. I was unable to find any earlier pictures, but by counting the rings I figured the tree to be about 70-80 years old, so it was probably planted in the 1940s.  FLW left the home around 1909 and died in 1959 and so probably had no history with the tree. The Wright family sold the home in 1925.

I documented the removal, milling, and product construction of these items so future clients will have record of their history. I call my furniture made from specific client’s trees Heritage Furniture made from Legacy Logs and this project certainly fits that criteria. I hope this furniture with keep this valuable resource enjoyable for future generations.

Contact Skorup at sawinc.skorup@gmail.com.

Read related article about Skorup: Making the Transition from Teaching to Running an Urban Wood Business

 

 

 



Retired Teacher Focuses on Growing Urban Wood Business

After retiring last spring from a distinguished teaching career that spanned 33 years, Steve Skorup has decided to dedicate more time to harvesting urban trees to make furniture and other wood products.

Skorup spent most of his teaching career at Waubonsie Valley High School where he taught technology and engineering education. Among his many honors, Skorup was named 2003 Illinois Drafting Educators Association Teacher of the Year, 2007 ITEA Teacher of the Year and twice chosen as SkillsUSA Advisor of the Year. He also coached wrestling for 24 years and was nominated IWCOA Assistant Wrestling Coach of the Year.

A resident of Sandwich, IL, Skorup operates SAWINC. It’s a company he launched while attending high school. His company specializes in harvesting trees to make wood products including live-edge tables, cutting boards and furniture.

“I have done woodworking since I was in high school in Lockport,” Skorup wrote in an email. “I have had my company SAWINC since high school when a friend and I formed a small cabinet making enterprise. My interest in urban wood utilization began about five years ago when Brandon Dobnick, a neighbor, began working for Morton Arboretum and was taking down trees on the side. He now has his own business, Dobnick Timberworks/Vertical Solutions. We started with one walnut tree and a table project he wanted to do and from there we started acquiring trees, doing some work while waiting for me to retire from teaching and dedicate more time to the business.

“We started with Brandon’s chain saw mill but also hired a Wade Ellis out of West Chicago who had a Wood-Mizer sawmill when we had a big pile we needed milled,” he continued. “We’ve acquired trees from some area tree services, towns, school districts, or we cut our own. I have been storing up slabs for four years and am looking forward to making some more products moving forward.”

Notable sources of logs have included the Morton Arboretum’s prairie restoration along the DuPage River, trees downed by a tornado in 2015 at the Woodhaven Lakes campground and a pair of American elms from the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio in Oak Park. Skorup noted that the trees he salvaged from the tornado scene represented a mere handful of the number that were felled. “So many of the trees were just ground to mulch in the clean-up effort,” Skorup said.

“My Frank Lloyd Wright live edge table won a Blue Ribbon at the Sandwich Fair last year,” Skorup added. “I try and use all pieces of the tree – serving boards, Poppe blocks for my grandchildren, outdoor ash benches, etc.”

Skorup says he plans to build a website for his business. In the meantime, he can be contacted at sawinc.skorup@gmail.com.