Home furnishings created by students in IIT project

Architecture student Ryan Klinger, 26, had put in about 80 hours creating a coffee table for class. As he neared the end of the project, a large crack formed down the center of the piece.

The Illinois Institute of Technology graduate student panicked for a moment, but then quickly decided he didn't want to hide the split. Instead, it would become the centerpiece of his coffee table.

“I more or less wanted to show people the story of the wood,” said Klinger, a graduate of West Aurora High School. “It is a natural thing growing. If I were to refine and get rid of it, I would lose the integrity of the beautiful board I had been given.”

Klinger and 23 other students in an IIT architecture and furniture class each created one furniture piece and home accessory item that are being showcased through June 29 at the Inland Steel Building in Chicago. The exhibit, called “Idea Tree: A Storm of Innovation,” is a result of a design competition led by Sawbridge Studios in collaboration with IIT and Horigan Urban Forest Products.

Each student was given a piece of wood from a storm-felled elm tree donated by Horigan Urban Forest Products. Paul Pettigrew, IIT associate studio professor of architecture, asked his class to design and fabricate a furniture piece and home accessory inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement. Items incorporated wood from the felled tree and other materials of the students' choosing.

Paul Zurowski, co-owner of Sawbridge Studios, said the Winnetka-based home furnishings company partnered with IIT by organizing the design competition and exhibit, and by having their craftsmen mentor students a few times during the semester.

When Zurowski saw the students' completed work at the exhibit's opening, he was impressed. Zurowski said the students, some of whom had never built furniture before, created beautiful, marketable products that he could put in the Sawbridge Studio's showroom.

“If there's a spirit in a tree, it would be happy,” Zurowski said. “Instead of being turned into mulch or thrown into a dump, the tree was turned into all these incredible projects.”

Annie Hutches, 23, a West Aurora High School graduate, was named best in show in the accessory category for stained glass panels she created that were an abstracted version of a Chicago city map. Hutches said wood from the felled tree separates the colored glass in the same locations as major roads and highways, and the Chicago River.

Hutches' piece, along with the other students' work, was judged by Jan Parr, editor of Chicago Home + Garden; Matt Seiler, president of the Chicago Furniture Designers Association; Gunny Harboe, president of Harboe Architects; and Lloyd Natof of SL Natof Design, who is the great-grandson of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Zurowski said guests will be surprised when they visit the 5,0000-square-foot exhibit and see how one tree branched into pieces like a coffee table, coat rack, bench, chess table, floor lamp and more.

Pettigrew said the exhibit will show the students' process and evoke the importance of using urban wood. Incorporating more urban wood into things like furniture could decrease the amount of trees cut down in forests and parks, Pettigrew said. Trees that are near a house are considered urban wood, and are often cut down due to disease, decay, storms, road expansion, etc.

“Sometimes people are upset about losing their favorite tree until they find out that it can live on as piece of furniture in their house,” Pettigrew said. “That's when they actually start to think about it in a different way.”

Klinger created a coffee table and table lamp that are on display at the exhibit. He decided that the only wood he would use for his pieces was urban wood, because he said it is more “environmentally friendly.”

“The natural state I received that piece of wood was a lot different than the wood you would purchase at Home Depot or Loews that is treated and sawed down,” Klinger said. “I was given a slab of a tree that still even had bark on one of its edges. To find a way to refine and finish that rough piece of wood, I thought was pretty interesting and extremely fun.”

A console table is part of the “Idea Tree: A Storm of Innovation,” on display at the Inland Steel Building in Chicago through June 29.
A coffee table on display at the exhibit.
An iPhone amplifier was created using some wood from the storm-felled tree.
Guests at the exhibit play at a lighted chess table designed by IIT student Eric Mendoza.
IIT architecture graduate student Ryan Klinger, 26, of Chicago, created a 18-inch tall table lamp from urban wood.
IIT students display the boards from a storm-felled tree that they used to create furniture pieces and home accessory items.
One student created a coat rack from part of a storm-felled tree.

If you go

<b>Hours:</b> 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday through June 29

<b>Where:</b> Inland Steel Building, 77 S. Dearborn St., Chicago

Etc. The exhibit is part of the Chicago Loop Alliance's “Pop Up Art Loop” program. For details, visit <a href=""></a>.

<b>Admission: </b>Free

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