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Dilettante Studios is a full-service design/build studio specializing in hand-crafted custom furniture, cabinets, carpentry, built-ins, environments, installations and art fabrication.

In regards to the product, we start with primarily found, inherited, re-purposed, salvaged, cast-off, 2nd-hand, used, abused, castigated, orphaned, or otherwise unwanted materials as both a principle and an invited opportunity for adaptive design.

On the design process:

We are not designers in the sense that we seek to establish and market a “look” or “style”, although that may emerge out of our working principles, but rather we try to work with the given materials and budget, at the level of craft that will fulfill the commission, and to accommodate the varied skill levels of our trainees.  We have many years of experience finding ways to work with imperfect and varied materials to make them beautiful.   We try to incorporate the value of process, discovery and experimentation (ours and yours) into fabrication, most of which is traditionally hashed-out in the design process.  And in the end, we try to meet the needs of the client in the most efficient and graceful way possible.

On dream fulfillment:

The economy is susceptible to the marketing strategies employed by agents and builders alike to associate real estate with the personal culmination of a dream.   While dreaming and imagination are an essential element in the creative process of remodeling one’s living space, we try to encourage localizing and adapting the dream to ones specific circumstances in ways that do not adversely affect the dreams of others, here and abroad.  Indeed, with Chicago’s history of vast spectacles, like the World’s Fair, and tremendous feats of engineering, like reversing the flow of the Chicago River, we are particularly susceptible to the mythology of dream-building as the only means of “stirring men’s souls.” (Daniel Burnham.)

DS is committed to finding ways to ground the imagination within this community, this economy, this ecosystem, this planet and its resources, and the specific community that surrounds you.  We wait to begin dreaming until we have some materials in hand.  We shop at the architectural salvage yards, before visiting the retail lumber yard or the home improvement warehouse.  We check Craigslist, before Menards.  We visit the construction dumpster on your block before making another trip to the lumber yard.  It is much more fun, revitalizes communities in all sorts of ways, provides an interesting lens through which to explore your environment, and most importantly, is vastly more intersting.   It certainly involves a different set of challenges than you might encounter buying retail, but we think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. The projects on the website attest to the fact that the results can fall on many points along the “rustic” vs. high-polish spectrum.

On sustainability:


The Resource Center’s model of improving society is most simply: to discover resources–both human and material–whose value has been overlooked, and bring them together in a creative way to make a sustainable project into an element of sustainable community.

-Ken Dunn, founder and director of the Chicago Resource Center

There is a great deal of talk in the building industry about sustainable practices, many of which focus on high-tech solutions, or modes of forestry and harvesting materials that are somewhat less rapacious than clear-cutting.  These are important strategies, but the  “greenest” materials by far are the ones that are already harvested and do not require further biological or production resources.  They do, however, require a reinvestment in the human capital required to properly treat, organize, and salvage these materials.  That is where we hope to make a meaningful contribution.

-John Preus, founder/director



John Preus – founder/director

John’s first significant experience working with wood was in third-grade shop class, shoe-shine sanding a pine shark to a smooth finish.  An even more primal and fundamental relationship to wood, though, comes from a sense of trees as vital beings in the ecosystem that offer shelter and shade, retain and release moisture, cleanse the air, grow fruit, fall on our houses and cars, create environmental white noise, and tower above us witnessing the life that goes on beneath them.  A child to Lutheran missionaries and ministers going back 6 generations to Norway, John spent his early years running barefoot and stepping in cow pies under a cathedral of trees in Makumira, Tanzania.  John recalls an early trauma of having a large elm tree cut out of his childhood yard, and experiencing it as something like a death in the family.  His interest in milling urban trees, co-founding the Urban Woods Project in 1999, undoubtedly responds to these early impressions.

His work as a designer, builder, and artist continues to explore the complex relationship between humans and the objects they surround themselves with, specifically the transfer of value between things and humans.  Preus imagines his work as  “articulating social relations in material form.” He has roughly 16 years of building and designing experience including a 2-year apprenticeship with award-winning furniture-maker John Nesset, and stints in various cabinet shops and carpentry crews.

He holds a BA in art from Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota, and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Chicago. He has also studied painting in Florence, Italy, with Rose Shakinovsky and Claire Gavronsky, and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He co-founded the art group Material Exchange and collaborated with co-founder Sara Black until 2010.  He lives with his family in West Rogers Park on the north side of Chicago.


Kevin Reiswig

Past dilettantes:

Daniel Roberts

Charlie Roderick:






Thanks to Charlie Roderick for his invaluable assistance in constructing the website, for photography, his diligent craftsmanship and general kindness.


Affiliate organizations: Material Exchange, The Resource Center, The Rebuilding Exchange, the Dorchester Project