By Lacey Sikora
Chanelle Moragne took a circuitous route to her newfound career, but in creating her own furniture line, Oak & Heir, she is returning to one of her earliest interests.
Growing up, her family lived in Oak Park before moving to the far west suburbs. In junior high school, while her friends were taking home economics classes, she took shop classes and discovered a love for working with wood and working with her hands.
As a young adult, she worked as an event planner, and many of her custom weddings involved the design of custom wood pieces. She recalls of the pieces that took places of pride in ceremonies and receptions.
"They were only used about six hours," she said. "I wanted to make something longer term."
In 2017, she decided to make a career shift and entered the world of real estate.
"One day, I made business cards, calling myself a stager, and went from there," Moragne said."
As a stager, she noticed that a lot of new-construction homes in the western suburbs would look better with furniture pieces that weren't available to the mass market. She teamed up with a friend whose family made custom cabinetry.
Their focus was kitchens, but Moragne wanted to make furniture that would help sell the homes for the developers and architects she was working with. With a team of millworkers, she created pieces that actually fit the style of the houses so that they looked lived in, and along the way, she started picking up clients who wanted custom pieces for their own homes.
"I was working in the western suburbs with a lot of new-build homes," Moragne said. "I'm creating furniture for these homes to stage them, but it can also be sold with the home. It was a one-stop shop for the homeowners because the furniture fit the house so well."
Making an heirloom
Moragne says that what began as creating dining tables that fit the scale and character of newly-built homes grew into a business of making future heirlooms for buyers with new and historic homes.
In her own homes, Moragne had been frustrated by furniture that didn't last. Inspired by all the historic homes she grew up around in Oak Park, she wanted to create heirloom wood pieces that could be passed on to the next generation. For those special pieces, she says many are looking beyond the big box stores.
"Furniture is expensive. If you're going to invest the money, make it worthwhile," she said.
Many clients are looking for a showpiece for a new-to-them home, and Moragne says her most popular pieces for this niche are dining room and kitchen tables, but people are also seeking console tables, entry way tables, headboards and coffee tables. She says there is something satisfying about designing a personal piece.
Many of her clients are also repeat clients.
"A lot of my clients are new homebuyers, maybe coming from an apartment to a house," she said. "The first thing they want is that table they will use every day. Once I'm done with that, usually, a year or so later, they come back for another piece."
Her pieces are more expensive than some retail, but Moragne says that people are also getting a one-of-kind item that really suits them and their homes.
"I don't want people to settle," she said. "You can go to West Elm and buy an end table for $300. For a couple hundred more, you can have something of your own."
She calls her pieces high-end but not astronomical in price, saying that while a typical big-box dining table could run $2,500, her typical kitchen or dining table starts at $3,000 and goes up in price depending on the wood type, finish and size.
Moragne says one of the selling points for her pieces is the client's ability to customize. She can make pieces as small or as large as the room requires, and finishes and details are tailored to each customer as well.
While a custom piece may take four to 12 weeks from concept to finish, Moragne says customers appreciate being a part of the process along the way. She creates her drawings of pieces by hand, a process which makes changes easy and provides clients with their own little piece of artwork. Clients can also visit her Elk Grove Village workshop, to choose finishes and colors and see the process unfold.
"Clients love visiting. It makes them feel more connected to the building process," Moragne said. "We can mix colors right there in front of you, and we have ongoing projects so that you can see color variations and the density of the types of woods."
She says that while custom pieces do take more time, they also come with more care. "One of the benefits of being local is it gives you peace of mind," she said. "You can come to the workshop you can call and get me on the phone. I'm honest with people, and they appreciate that."
Moragne is in the process of building out a new showroom in Wheaton where customers can see some examples of her work. The showroom will include a series of six to eight vignettes from a dining room showcasing a table, to a mudroom with built-in lockers, to a kitchen area with custom pieces.
She says one of the first vignettes clients will see when they walk in will be a custom beverage center – something more and more clients are requesting.
While many customers find her through her website, www.oakandheir.com, Moragne is looking forward to people being able to come into her showroom and touch and see her products for themselves.
Answer Book 2019
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