Wrong numbers led cabinetmaker to Wright style Woodworker got commissions for Prairie School furniture

May 26, 1991|By Mary Daniels | Mary Daniels,Chicago Tribune

Chicago -- It was a wrong number that put David Heinz on the Wright track.

Ten years ago, Mr. Heinz, a self-taught furniture artisan, began doing cabinetry, woodworking and refinishing in his parents' basement in Forest Park, Ill. He opened his own shop in Oak Park, Ill., as business grew.

That's when Ma Bell turned the tables on him.

Mr. Heinz began receiving telephone calls for Thomas Heinz, the Lake Forest, Ill., architect specializing in Frank Lloyd Wright-style designs. Many of the calls were requests for reproductions of Wright's furniture.

Mr. Heinz contacted Mr. Heinz, the woodworker calling the architect, and expressed an interest in doing reproductions himself.

Eventually the wrong numbers led to commissions to do more than 25 Wright pieces for Thomas Heinz. Among these were a pair of Wright tables that David Heinz, now 30, counts as among his most satisfying achievements. One of the tables is on permanent loan to a museum in Dortmund, Germany.

In 1988, Mr. Heinz pulled off another copying coup, remodeling the kitchen of a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park, the William E. Martin House, by designing new cabinets and a built-in table for the 1903 classic.

"The kitchen floor plan had not changed much from its 1903 design," Mr. Heinz says.

He carefully tore out the "terrible" white laminate cabinets with metal trim from a 1950s remodeling job. Then he sent away to the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives at Taliesin West, Wright's winter home in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the original blueprints of the house, which included drawings of the cabinets.

Mr. Heinz made new cabinets from quarter-sawn white oak, in layman's terms sometimes referred to as mission oak. It often was used in "mission" style furniture, resembling simple church furniture found in missions in California. He stained them to match the moldings in the house.

"The idea was to restore the kitchen as close as possible, but have it up to today's standards," Mr. Heinz says.

These sleek works, which are re-creations of masterpieces, are made by someone who never took a woodworking class.

After attending Western Illinois University, Mr. Heinz realized that working on a desk was more to his liking than working behind it.

A stint with a Lombard, Ill., furniture maker taught him the finer points of touching up damaged goods. He moved on to an apprenticeship with a Forest Park cabinetmaker. After that he went underground -- to his parents' basement, to be exact.

Today, while still influenced by the Prairie School founder, Mr. Heinz no longer does exact reproductions.

"I've never felt like an extension of Frank Lloyd Wright, but it does come fairly naturally to me," he says. "I actually like [Charles Rennie] Mackintosh [a Scottish architect, designer and water-colorist, who was Wright's contemporary] more than Frank Lloyd Wright because [Mackintosh's designs] are not so rectangular and square. His work is a little more free-flowing, softer. That's the direction I'm going in.

"I do a lot of furniture in the Prairie style theme; I do a lot of work in the style and the feel of arts and crafts movement. I guess I enjoy that time period.

"But I'm not in competition with the woodworker who's making duplicates."

One of his recently completed projects is a dining table and 12 chairs for the Isadore Heller House, an 1896 Wright house in Hyde Park, Ill.

The chair is Heinz's own design. At first glance it looks original, but it's not quite Wright.

"The people who commissioned me wanted a dining set to fit within the house, but they didn't want Frank Lloyd Wright," Mr. Heinz says. "Frank Lloyd Wright is notorious for chairs that are uncomfortable. The back of my chair is slanted but on a curve and spindled so it's a comfortable chair."

As far as Mr. Heinz is concerned, neo-Prairie is here to stay.

"I think it is viable art worth doing. That time period of furniture will always carry its own weight. It's not fad furniture, and a lot of things of the '90s are."

The David Heinz Gallery and woodworking shop are at 820 North Blvd., Oak Park, Ill. 60301, telephone (708) 386-5580. Workshop hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central Time) Mondays to Fridays and by appointment Saturdays and Sundays.

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