Furniture Fixer. Aspiring Actor. Hockey Player. We get an early start with Last Workshop’s Ben Hanisch.
“I eat a lot in the morning because I run around a lot.”
“I’m not really a morning person,” Ben Hanisch says sleepily as he opens the door to his apartment. “But all of our subcontractors want to be at work by 7 a.m. so I’ve got a lot of early mornings.” We’ve just walked down a narrow alley to arrive at the backyard carriage house unit where he lives, nestled in a quiet hideaway in Wicker Park.
The custom furniture designer gives us the grand tour of his place, which is still mostly bare because he just moved in a month ago. The magazine “Apartmento” is lying on his coffee table, an original Ben Hanisch production. “Half my life is broken designer furniture,” he says dryly, motioning toward a reproduction Le Courbousier chaise lounge and an authentic (but broken) Bertoia side chair.
A running theme is taking shape with each new Chicago guy we meet—rise early, get more done. Like it or not, most days Hanisch is up at first light because he usually has to let workers onto the job site for his other job: building out interiors for some of Chicago’s hottest new restaurants and bars. In reality, Hanisch is many things besides an entrepreneur: a hockey player at Johnny’s Ice House, a photographer who does all of his own product visuals, and an actor (he spent all his money on acting classes upon moving back to Chicago).
He gives us the back story as he whips together some scrambled eggs, a kale smoothie, and a toasted bagel with cream cheese. “The first thing I do is make breakfast,” Hanisch says. “I eat a lot in the morning because I run around a lot.” It all began when Hanisch was pursuing a pro snowboarding career in Salt Lake City. When he had to put those aspirations on ice, he turned to renovating a warehouse that his then-landlord owned. “We were young so we just stated making shit ourselves,” he explains. Using reclaimed materials they found around town, Ben and his friends built out a well-designed loft space and learned by trial and error.
He apprenticed under a custom furniture maker for two years before starting his own business called Project Sunday, inspired by the fact that he and a friend would drive around every weekend looking for discarded materials. Then it was back to Chicago to start another furniture operation, which he named the Last Workshop. “My whole life story is doing something for three years and getting bored.” What could be next? He not sure, but says that “my dream, dream, dream job is a boutique hotel where every room is different.”
“This whole process is rekindling my love for this city that I kind of lost for a while.”
Hanisch wolfs down his breakfast. By 8:15 a.m. the phone calls have started rolling in (a little later than usual, he notes). He slips on his battered Red Wing boots to accompany his grey jeans, black polo, and green ball cap (“I pretty much dress winter from the waist down, always.”) and heads off on the short walk to La Colombe coffee shop under the Blue Line L stop. With his usual order of an iced coffee (“even in the winter”) the ritual is complete. Hanisch raises his cup in thanks to the baristas and slips out the door into the bustle of the City that Works.