Chicago furniture makers Zak Rose and Doug Thome each operate their own individual woodworking companies - the eponymous firms zakrose and Thomeworks, Inc. - but they often look to each other as manufacturing and consulting resources from their own workspaces in a shared, 30,000-square-foot facility.
As members of Chicago’s Dock 6 Collective - a consortium of eight individual woodworking, millwork and fabrication companies operating under one roof - Rose, Thome and their associates (including Lagomorph Design and Carson Maddox Studios) have struck a business model which they describe as “Small shop personality, with big shop resources.”
“We share resources, tools, each other’s company, buying power, and labor pool from time-to-time,” Rose says. “But we all run individual businesses out of this big space.”
zakrose's regular staff numbers four employees. But with close to 30 skilled woodworkers and metalworkers working for other wood production companies in the collective, zakrose is able to scale up rapidily when producing larger jobs.
“When something big comes in the door, we generally collaborate, or find a guy who is best at a certain part of it to get that part done,” Rose says.
Original furniture pieces and casegoods in the zakrose line often integrate a signature balance of natural wood grain and sleek, thin-lined steel. Current projects include a custom walnut turntable cabinet for a private residence, as well as a 30-foot back bar and a series of room dividers for Boka Restaurant Group, part of the interior of Momotaro, an authentic Japanese restaurant the Chicago dining firm opened in October.
A New York design firm subcontracted zakrose for the project. The Momotaro design, Boka Restaurant Group says, is an “Ode to mid-twentieth century Japanese business culture.” The back bar was inspired by the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
zakrose has also licensed an original piece, The Silhouette Bed, to Crate & Barrel's CB2 division, which sells contemporary furniture designs online and in 14 stores.
“A quarter of the work I do is my own design,” Rose says. “The rest is someone else’s - including millwork and high-quality fabrication and surfaces.”
Even when working with outside designers, Rose must rely on his own knowledge of functional form.
“As much as I can, I try to inform whoever is sending me the design, with best practices for building it,” he adds. “When someone’s designing something and they have a vision, I respect it. We give them exactly what they want, but as the builders, we have to make sure it is going to work for their purposes.”
Thome, who began his career building custom homes as his father’s apprentice, also works closely with designers to tailor individual furniture pieces and casegoods for his clients’ specific needs. He also says his understanding of form and function is especially critical when working with designs that are not his own. For a recent job, Thome was asked to replicate and replace a series of wall-mounted vanities.
“The vanities were failing, and the goal was to replicate them in a way that wouldn’t fail,” Thome says. “Even though it wasn’t my design, it had to be the same thing again, but not messed up.”
Thome has also been completing several pieces for a commercial client in the health resources industry. These include a live-edge conference table for the conference room, small tables and benches for the breakroom, and an upscale ping-pong table for the recreation area.
Filling very specific custom requests, Thome says, requires a dynamic relationship with the designer, which fits well into the model of “Small-business attention, with large manufacturing capabilities.”
“The beauty of how this space has worked so well, is that every one of us had our own successful businesses before we threw them together," Thome says. “It has allowed us to bring in tooling, it has allowed us to bring our own personal client basis, and it has allowed us to come in and operate as individual businesses continually without having to worry about taking business from one another.”
To complete the upscale ping-pong table, Thome hired fellow Dock 6 Collective company, SAP Design, to fabricate components on its 5x12 C.R Onsrud CNC router.
Thome was also hired recently by Navillus WoodWorks, of the Dock 6 Collective, to create the tabletops for a complete restaurant remodel. Andrew Kephart, owner of -ism Furniture, also of the Dock 6 Collective, was hired to clad many of the furniture pieces in metal. Subcontracting portions of the work to other companies in the collective, Thome says, allowed Navillus WoodWorks to ensure a personal touch with each product, while still delivering each portion as scheduled.
“The fact that its all being done under one roof," Rose adds, "Just makes it easy for Dan in that case, to say, ‘How are my tables doing?’ Or ‘How’s my metal doing?’ Without having to run all over town to do it.”
The only thing the companies have had to compete for, Thome adds, is the small luxury of additional space in the facility.
“That is the beauty of having all the talent in the room,” he says.
On the floor, the eight companies in the Dock 6 Collective utilize an assembly of machines including a Timesavers 43-inch, dualhead Widebelt sander; a Striebig Panel Saw; a Laguna 36-inch Re-Saw Bandsaw; an Omga Radial Arm Saw; a sliding tablesaw; a straight-line rip saw; a 25-inch planer; a 16-inch jointer; several shapers; and Holzher and Cehisa edgebanders. Each company also operates with its own tablesaws and corded tools.
The 5x12 C.R. Onsrud Panel Tech CNC Router was introduced in 2010.
“The CNC router changed a lot of things, it kind of opened our eyes to what could be done, as opposed to doing everything by hand,” Rose says. “There’s a product—a round table—which I made just because the CNC was here. We cut the tabletop and mortises for the legs on the CNC, and so glue-up, sanding, and finishing were all we really needed.”
Thomeworks, inc. also operates with a 4x4 ShopBot CNC router. Thome says the router is ideal for prototyping.
With 30,000 square feet of tooling, storage, finishing booths, and work space, Rose and Thome say they rarely find the need to scope out new machines. They have considered a horizontal re-saw for cutting veneer, as well as a laser cutter or a water cutter, but an additional wide-belt sander or jointer might be more of a priority.
“We were all were in pretty good shape before we walked in the door, and that’s how we were able to bring in only the best tools. The ones that weren’t as good were put into the back," Thome adds. "It worked out pretty good.”
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