Chicago-Area Furniture Builder is a 1990s 'Renaissance Man'

Drawing from old-country experience and new-world ingenuity, Gurami Manasherov creates projects using everyday materials in new ways.

By Tom Caestecker, Jr.

With so many people becoming specialists in narrow fields nowadays, it has become most unusual to find a real "Renaissance Man." But Gurami Manasherov, president of Gurami Design Group, Wheeling, IL, could be considered one of them. He excels in synthesizing both amazing artistry and monetary success in his current business profession, which is designing beautiful furniture pieces with the use of laminates and veneers. And he has a past filled with a wide variety of experiences and training.

Born in the state of Georgia in the former Soviet Union, Manasherov has mastered several aspects of the "American Dream." When he first came to the Chicago area, he was involved in renovation, mostly in the posh Gold Coast neighborhood. He also did a lot of work restoring murals at the time. In the late 1970s, he had an ethnic Russian restaurant on the city's far north side.

"I designed it and ran it. I had the restaurant for two years, and there was always a three-week backup for reservations," Manasherov recalled.

But in 1982, he went back to his artistic/craftsman roots when he started his own business creating custom furniture pieces. He has had his current company since 1986, and it has grown to about $1 million in annual sales.

While he currently specializes in custom furniture and recently added kitchen cabinetry, Manasherov also has designed the interiors of many commercial structures. His laminate pieces, which account for a large portion of his work, showcase his creative nature. For Manasherov, it is never simply a question of frameless or face-frame, and it is never just gluing up a laminate or a veneer to a substrate. Rather, it's a case of each project being a singular piece of art, hand-crafted to the customer's tastes and desires and designed to be user-friendly and functional.

"Every job is a truly custom project," Manasherov said. "When it comes to our free-standing pieces, we never reproduce anything."

Residential projects make up 75 percent of the company's business and are done primarily for homes in the affluent suburbs on Chicago's North Shore, but some can be found as far away as California. The commercial arena has included restaurants, salons, hospitals, offices and religious institutions.

"Many people who order a custom [furniture] piece for their home will end up getting their business office done later," Manasherov said.

Gurami Design Group recently moved into a new, 10,000-square-foot building, which includes a large showroom and office area. The showroom features free-standing furniture, such as armoires, desks (one of which had a 360° moving top), and storage cabinets of all shapes and sizes, as well as kitchens.

"We try to make things both different and functional," Manasherov said. "We often design for collectors who like unusual specialty things, but we also will make cabinets that have the same widths as appliances [for uniformity], and accessories like slide-out pantries, so pieces are not just mechanical, but functional."

The "invention" of different ways to add artistic touches to laminates is one of Manasherov's signature design methods. These are not only implementations of design, but an ability to put anything to good use.

"For example, metal laminates often come with some scratches or imperfections," Manasherov said. "We add extra [synchronized] scratches and give it an artistic pattern."

Manasherov will use a surplus of a material or product to his advantage as well. For example, he will take leftover pieces of laminates and cut them into small pieces and create mosaic type patterns on some of his furniture pieces.

"I once ordered too many 'laminate circles' from a supplier, so I incorporated them into the laminate flooring in my showroom to create a peg-type pattern," he said.

He also has a remarkable knack for correcting mistakes. There was one armoire that was built in an incorrect size, but Manasherov found a way to put it to good use.

"It was one inch too small to accommodate a television, as it was supposed to," he said. "But I added some racks so that it can be used to store wine instead."

Manasherov was educated in the tradition of custom design and fine arts at the Academy of Arts in Tbilisi, Georgia in the former Soviet Union, from which he graduated in 1967. His study involved the use of many different materials, including wood and metal, and many design elements, including furniture manufacture, architecture and clothing design.

"When you make bagels, you can make cake, too," Manasherov said, referring to the myriad projects he has designed and the many refinements he has learned, both in his course of study and his profession.

Part of his drive to put everything to use, including what most people would regard as waste, was a product of his Russian background, he said.

"Everything was owned by the government, so we found ourselves making something from nothing," Manasherov said.

Among his most recent, unusual projects was a job for the Congregation Yehuda Moshe synagogue in Lincolnwood, IL. For the interior decor, Manasherov implemented artwork which combined vene

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