Taking wood saved from a burn pile, woodworker John Hatlestad pairs it with a flea market antique and transforms it into a functional and distinctive piece of furniture.
His artistic woodwork is described as having an archaeological feel. Like archaeological remnants, Hatlestad's creations offer clues to the past.
All his materials have history.
"Like archaeology, my work has a sense of time and a sense of man, something you won't find at Ikea," said Grayslake resident Hatlestad, who is quick to note he likes the store.
The type of craftsmanship Hatlestad creates is called studio furniture, one-of-a-kind pieces crafted with reverence for the materials.
Hatlestad finds material at flea markets, garage sales and farm sales.
"Wood finds me or I find the wood," Hatlestad said. "People are always dropping off wood at my shop."
Hatlestad Studio, on Rte. 83 in Grayslake, is packed inside and out with wood remnants. Hatlestad crafts tables, cabinets, bedroom sets and accessories out of his discoveries.
Many of the found items incorporated into his work are things most people would pass by: an old snow blower blade that creates a vertical line in a wood sculpture, or a piece of metal that was the base of a car battery and now makes an attractive focal point on a cabinet drawer.
Hatlestad's work is "green" not only because he repurposes items, but also due to his natural style.
"His work shows a connection to nature, and also to spirit," said Larry Zgoda, a Chicago stained-glass artist who sometimes works with Hatlestad. "He doesn't ever follow a formula. Every time he makes something, he goes at it from a new direction."
Hatlestad said he just listens to the materials.
"In this type of work, you have to do what the wood tells you to do; you have to be attuned to the texture, the line, the color," Hatlestad said.
Hatlestad is commissioned by interior designers, architects, builders and private individuals. While anyone can buy nice furniture, he strives to create pieces that elicit a "Wow!" response.
Hatlestad, 67, grew up in the lake country of northern Minnesota; he loves lakes and finds comfort in the view of Grays Lake he has at home. He grew up building things from forts to toy guns.
He came to the Chicago area in 1966 to teach junior high students, but it wasn't a good fit. He worked as a landscape contractor, remodeling contractor and actor. A self-taught woodworker, he has been designing studio furniture for about 30 years.
Hatlestad has two sons by his first marriage, Luke, a writer in Denver, Colo.; and Seth, a building contractor in New Paltz, New York. He and his wife, Susan Love, have a 13-year-old daughter, Olivia. Olivia has spent many hours in the woodshop. Together they crafted artistic Harry Potter wands and brooms to sell to friends and at the Grayslake Farmers Market.
Family is important to Hatlestad; he loves to talk about his grandfather who lied about his age to go fight against Pancho Villa. He's a proud dad; he finds space in his studio to display creations from his children and pictures of his family.
Hatlestad said he has no plans to retire. He loves his work so much that he plans to put a small workshop in his garage.
"When we come home from a vacation, I come straight here to my workshop to get centered," Hatlestad said. "When I come home at night, I don't watch TV; I want to work."
Forging iron is his newest hobby. He also makes jewelry from recycled items. When he's not crafting, he's seeking out items he can infuse with new life.
"I like the idea of recycling, not wasting things but using them up. On my gravestone, I want it to say 'He was all used up,' " Hatlestad joked.