It often seems that tongue-in-groove drawer and cabinet construction seems to have gone the way of the dinosaurs. But Mike Wilson, owner of Hummingbird Ventures in Glen Ellyn, has brought it back and even improved on it.
Two years ago the University of Kansas-educated industrial designer came up with a unique way of building cabinets without the use of glue, screws or even the metal pins that most manufacturers use to hold up cabinet shelves. He has been constructing them for clients ever since, completing approximately 25 kitchens, an average of one per month.
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"These cabinets go together like building blocks or a puzzle, and are enhanced by numerous old-fashioned details like the saw-toothed shelf adjusters that German and Swiss cabinetmakers used during the 1800s -- and which Frank Lloyd Wright used in many of his Prairie homes," Wilson said.
"We also use very heavy doors. The standard cabinet door today is three-quarters of an inch thick. Ours are (more than) an inch thick and we use wood pin hinges so that there are no metal hinges showing when the cabinets are open," he said.
Patents on the system are pending.
"When the cabinets are complete they look very cool and, add to that, they are designed to survive for a couple hundred years. They flex a little so unlike conventional modern cabinets, they can stand up to humidity, temperature changes and even house settling," Wilson said.
Wilson, the holder of more than 40 patents, has invented products ranging from novelty items like "On the Rocks" glasses to this cabinet system and he is now working on an alternative energy source.
"We had been selling more traditional cabinets along with our soapstone countertops for over a decade when my technique of free-association thinking led me to come up with this idea for cabinet design. It came to me like a bolt of lightning in the middle of the night and the next day I drew up the design and soon had built a prototype," he said.
"Our first customer was someone who came in to order a countertop, saw the cabinet prototype and immediately commissioned us to build them for his kitchen. He even had to cancel another cabinet order to do it," Wilson said.
Hummingbird Ventures builds the cabinetry out of whatever wood its customers desire, but about half have been made of poplar and then hand-painted varying colors, but mainly whites and off-whites. Wilson said he is now building a cherry set, however, for a home in Southhaven, Mich.
Others have been taken to kitchens in Oak Park, Wilmette, Geneva, St. Charles, Wheaton and Glen Ellyn to be assembled and installed by Wilson and his crew.
"I see real possibilities for this to expand, however, because the integrated wood pieces could easily be shipped flat and then assembled in a faraway location by us or by someone trained by us," he said.
Most of Hummingbird's business has come from its website, www.hummingbirdwoodworks.com, or from word-of-mouth, he said. Soapstone counter customers often visit the shop at 21W200 Hill Ave. in Glen Ellyn.
Wilson said soapstone countertops are still the mainstay of the business, however. Soapstone is a very dense, natural product that will not absorb food or other materials, so it is popular with medical and dental labs and, increasingly, with homeowners.
It is quarried at four sites in Vermont and three in Brazil and then fabricated at Hummingbird Ventures and installed for local customers.
For more information, call (630) 858-2576.