Oak Brothers: Fine Restorers of Interior Architecture
Hi! My name is Jeff Ediger. I’m the owner and founder of Oak Brothers, a shop dedicated to the restoration of historic and vintage architectural wood–windows, doors, fireplace surrounds, built-in cabinets, wood trim, and similar interior architectural elements. We also do whole room restorations. Here I am, measuring the length of the “Home-Depot-Special” chandelier that was hanging in my 1923 Chicago brick bungalow when I bought it. (I can’t wait to rip it out and toss it where it belongs!) I’m up here on this ladder because I need to figure out how much chain I should add to this vintage chandelier I’m holding in my other hand to get it to hang at a proper height. It doesn’t look like much now, but wait until I’m finished restoring it! Installing this period chandelier is part of the larger project I’ve undertaken–the restoration of this dining room to a period Arts and Crafts style consistent with the age of my house. You can see our plans and follow our progress by going here to my blog.
From our beginnings to today
A decade prior to this project, I had gotten my start as a craftsman through an apprenticeship with a third-generation Dutch house painter. That’s where I discovered my love for working with my hands.
I moved on to establish my own interior house painting business, working primarily in the Hyde Park and Kenwood neighborhoods of Chicago. Almost all of my jobs were in the century-old residences and estates that are typical of the housing stock of these neighborhoods. So I learned a lot about old buildings and expanded my skill-base from painting to other interior restoration skills to keep up with the idiosyncrasies and complexities of these vintage structures.
Then this project came my way: the restoration of three floors of stairwell and landings, including eleven doors and doorframes in this substantial, century old Italianate Victorian residence in the Kenwood neighborhood. The tasks included finish removal and refinishing, door and wood trim repairs, and brass refurbishing. Too big for me to do all alone, I convinced my friend and fellow-craftsman, Art Perkins, to help with the project.
With thirty years of experience and training to draw on, Art was a well-established antique furniture restorer. He had received formal training through the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute and through apprenticeships and positions in various shops. Art and I quickly recognized that vintage architectural elements such as this stairwell are–irreplaceable antiques in their own right–worthy of the same care and attention Art had been trained to devote to antique furniture. So we combined our skill-sets to develop workable procedures that could be applied to restoring interior architectural elements such as this grand staircase.
As an example of the kind of integrative work we did, consider this unusual “piano-key finish” we adapted to get just the right coloration of the treads on this stairwell.
Our on-the-job training took a leap forward when we started getting requests for window restoration. And we soon added wood entryway door restoration to our list of services, given the importance of both these transitional architectural elements. See Our Restoration Process for a good example of the kinds of restoration work we can do. And this living-room project, in particular, demonstrates the wide range of services we offer for “whole room restoration” projects.
My forte in life, though, is integration. (That’s why I’m particularly attracted to the Arts-and-Crafts movement with its commitment to the integration of aesthetics and functionality.) During my work as an interior house painter, I had acquired skills in rendering decorative paint finishes through coursework taken at the Miller-Wagenner School for the Decorative Arts and the International School for the Decorative Arts. So I soon began to also integrate my expertise in the decorative finishes within a restoration context.
Since then, I’ve gotten a lot of on-the-job training. I’ve also learned how to hire good people and subcontractors who add to my skills. As you can see from this website, we are able to offer a wide range of interior architectural restoration work.
My principles and customer testimony
As verified by client testimonials, Oak Brothers stands behind our guiding principles. Here are those principles with relevant commentary gleaned from client reviews:
Quality craftsmanship which privileges durability over against expediency of the outcome.
“Overall, I was thrilled with the level of detail Jeff and his Oak Brothers put into their work, the consistency in their work and the quality of the products which they used. If you hire Oak Brothers you should be aware that you are hiring a careered craftsman or artisan as other reviewers indicate. And there are benefits to this like the quality of the work, which I have already mentioned, but I would also like to mention that the very best benefit is the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ve hired the very best person for the job and it will be completed in the very best possible way. Yes, as the other reviewer indicated, it might be a bit more expensive than other quotes. But the time saved by not having to chase up after anyone will make it completely worth it!!!” Go here to see the entire review.
Equal and integrative attention to both functional and aesthetic restorations.
“Oak Brothers took on the job of repairing three sets of French doors and some of the larger windows. The larger windows included a large sunroom with windows that literally disappear into the wall when raised. Oak Brothers did a fantastic job of getting the windows to work & look almost new again. We were very pleased. In addition, Oak Brothers helped us choose colors for some of the historical rooms, stripped & repaired our historical entryway sconces, and ended up deciding to do the entire entryway which has amazing detail on the Samuel Marx plaster molding and light fixtures.” Go here to read the entire review.
Adherence to established restoration procedures, including attentiveness to period materials and preservation principles.
“The finishes are excellent. Their attention to detail and precision in their workmanship is more than we were hoping for…As another example, we decided not to fully strip the window finish but instead to do a partial stripping of the finish with the application of more shellac so that its appearance continued to match that of the casings (which still have their original finish). They restored the finish while keeping the original look. It takes experience to know how much or how little to do.” Go here to read the entire review.
Clarity of communication throughout the project with a commitment to educating our clients in accordance with the depth of their interest.
The best part about working with Oak Brothers is what I learned along the way. I’m not familiar with windows or all that handy around the house, but at every stage Jeff took the time to walk me through the process and explain what they’d do in detail; his proposals and contract were very detailed and well-written. Whenever anything unexpected arose he took the time to write, call, and send photos if necessary to explain what had come up, what our options were, and what a fair cost adjustment would be.” Go here to see the entire review.
Integrity demonstrated by clarity and thoroughness of estimates and contracts which are then adhered to by high quality performance of specified procedures.
“What I liked most about working with Jeff was his honesty and pride in his work, which meant I could feel at ease letting Oak Brothers take care of the project while I was out-of-town on business trips or simply too busy at work to check up on things every day. There were a number of times when I received calls from Jeff to inform me of issues that needed attention for which he wanted my direction (rather than just doing what was expedient and later telling me he had to keep moving on the job), or to provide suggestions about how to resolve a problem that had arisen. He made many thoughtful decisions which gave me confidence that he had my best interests at heart. Jeff even dissuaded me from a few projects that he felt were not necessary to achieve my goals, even though that meant reducing his own profit — that’s integrity.” Go here to see the entire review.
And I’m right there, in the trenches with you!
As I’ve noted above, I am also the recent, proud owner of a historic Chicago brick bungalow. As you can see from my blog entries, I approach the restoration of my own home with the same zeal and skill I apply to client’s homes. You are going to be hearing a lot about the period restoration of this house in my blog because that’s where I do my experimentation! But don’t worry. I’ve still got time to come look at your project. Why not call me or drop a line to inquire about a project you are considering for your own home? Since I’m right there, alongside you, facing the same hopes and concerns, I’ll understand what you are hoping to achieve. We’d love to hear from you!