Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Jacob Wenerbegan woodworking at a very young age. With tutelage from both his father and grandfather, he spent many a night in the basement shop perfecting his craft. His father, a machinist, introduced him to the world of metalwork, expanding his repertoire of design tools. A passion for aesthetics was cultivated by yearly summer vacations to Manhattan’s Upper East Side with his mother. Formal training came in the form of a degree in Architecture from the University of Kansas. However, while in school, Jacob realized that he was not using the university’s workshops for school projects, rather, to build his own furniture.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. In 3 words: I make stuff. But to elaborate, I like to think of myself as an editor. I don’t aim to change the world of design with radical furniture—rather, I take elements of great things I experience and mold them into something new. So you’ll see work with the sleek proportions of midcentury modern, mixed with the book matched grain of European art deco, with a splash of raw steel to give it an industrial edge.
What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? I launch new collections every 9-12 months, so recently I’ve been working on the newest collection which should launch June/July. Should be some exciting new work as part of it.
What are you currently watching on Netflix/what’s on your Netflix queue? Just “marathoned” all of Arrested Development. It was just silly enough to keep me going.
What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other designers are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? I think one of the biggest challenges I’ve found is trying to find ways to separate my work from others—we’re lucky enough to be in the midst of a “handcrafted movement”, and there are myriad great craftsmen making some stunning work—but sometimes it all seems to blend together. The real trick is to set your work apart in a creative, yet elegant way.
How did your interest in art or design begin? I was very young—younger than I can even remember. My mother exposed me to a lot of art, theater, and music as a child. We would take summer trips to Manhattan to visit my grandparents (we lived in Minnesota), and I remember being in love with the artistic vibrance of the city.
How has living in Chicago affected your design practice? Chicago is a great place to be a maker—we’ve not only got a great design and art community to support us creatively, but we also have the industrial infrastructure to support the manufacturing side; from material suppliers to industrial machining and metal finishing.
What products or companies are you interested in right now? Weiss Watch company in Los Angeles—I have a love for mechanical watches, and I’m really excited to see an American company making great looking timepieces.
What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? I work primarily in wood and steel. Walnut is the current trend, which is nice, because it’s great to work with. I try and do some unexpected things like oxidizing it so it takes on a purplish black tone, just to keep things different. A design usually starts with an idea from that ether when I’m in that in-between stage of awake and sleep. It then goes through numerous sketches, models, then on to full-scale prototypes. The vast majority of them never make it past a sketch—they can’t all be zingers.
Tell us a joke. How do you catch a unique duck? Unique up on it. How do you catch a tame duck? Tame way, unique up on it.
What is your snack/beverage of choice when working in your studio? Black Coffee and biscotti.
What do you do when you’re not designing? Traveling, working on our fixer-upper craftsman style house, and playing with our 6 month old daughter.
Any current or upcoming shows we should know about ? The Dock 6 Design and Art 7, which will be happening May 9/10th. It’s a big open house for all the shops in my building (4200 W. Diversey).
If you hadn’t become a designer what do you think you’d be doing? I’d probably be in the auto industry—I’ve had a lifelong love of cars, and am currently in the (very long) process of restoring an old Porsche from the frame up.
What are you listening to right now? Lots of early Elvis Costello and Bowie, and Chance the Rapper.
What is your ideal studio situation/workspace? Almost exactly what I have now: tons of light, raw, open. It’s the perfect place to make a lot of noise and dust. Now, if only it wasn’t on the third floor…