Stepping across the threshold of the BKE Designs workshop, I had the sense of entering another world. The building stretches in front of the visitor, long and narrow, and the raw materials and ancient machinery of bygone professions hang overhead. The scent and sight of sawdust invades the senses. In this tribute to physical craftsmanship lies memorials to craftsmen of a different kind; Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix oversee the space. Joining them is your guide through this world, Brian K. Ellison, owner of bke designs.
Brian’s pride of the past is apparent as he details the history of the factory, which has been in operation since 1923. The shop remains in full-scale operation to this day, and aside from producing bke designs pieces, is a regular manufacturer of camera parts for Deardorff Camera and xylophone frames. This is fitting; in Greek, xylophone means “wood sound”, and few words could better describe the symphony of construction that takes place at the workshop.
In a weaving pattern reminiscent of many bke designs pieces, Brian seamlessly moves from discussing the purpose and proper uses of the surrounding machinery to the inspiration, conception, and execution of his own work. Laws of physics, flow, and perceived irregular pattern are all concepts that play into the bke designs collection.
A sense of experimentation and discovery pervades the shop. Although the workshop is a woodworker’s playground, Brian does not limit his pieces to just one material. Metal and glass are central to many installations, particularly lighting projects. Inspiration can be found anywhere: Brian has even experimented with a wall insulation material he came across in Germany. These creations take many forms: media displays, headboards with built in light, and hand crafted wine boxes. Destinations for his work include museums, restaurants, art collectors, and even custom home projects.
This eclectic mix of material, structure, and purpose is a reflection of its creator: Brian himself is a jack of many trades. He has training and expertise in architecture, real estate development, and… fire dancing. In 1993, he received his first patent for use in large-scale production, a CD holder. Needing to recharge his creative batteries, in 2006 Brian took a sabbatical from both corporate and American life – relocating to Amsterdam to focus on design. Upon his return from the Netherlands in 2008, Brian returned to real estate development part time, all the while planning his exit so that he could work full time on his true passion; designing – not the fire… although he does manage to fit in quite a bit of fire dancing on the weekends.
In the upcoming months, Brian’s grand plan will be finally realized; the operation of bke designs will be his full time commitment. Not only will Unbranded Designs be featuring many bke designs furnishings, we have partnered with Brian to manufacture our first pilot furniture piece. The Isa Chair by designer Adele Cuartelon has officially joined the orchestra of creations that have taken form in this studio. Unbranded Designs is proud to be partnering with Brian, and we are excited to see what bke designs does next!
Recent Accomplishments Include but Not Limited to:
- Tavernita Restaurant, Design and Fabrication of Custom Wood Wall Clading, Chicago, Illinois
- Falafill Restaurants, Fabrication of Millwork for 3 locations, Chicago/Oak Park, Illinois
- Guerilla Truck Show, Particpant, Chicago, Illinois
- Distinctly South Shore, Furniture Store Display, Chicago, Illinois
- Black Creativity Exhibition, Museum of Science & Industry, Chicago Illinois
- Participant in “Not Just Another Pretty Face” Exhibition at the Hyde Park Arts Center, Chicago, Illinois
- La Remise, Partner in Design of Bed & Breakfast, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Featured Artist at Heir Gallery, Chicago, Illinois
bke designs workshop. Inspiration on the wall.
Machines machines machines.
Headboard with built in lighting.
Wine box and coasters.
The shade on these light fixtures is made out of industrial insulation material!
50 inch pedestal lamp.
Custom media installation.
Tavernita restaurant. All wood paneling designed and crafted by bke designs.
Falafill restaurant, Oak Park Illinois. All wood work fabricated by bke designs.
Brian – fire dancer.