Sizing up space: Craig Sellers (right) works with one of his employees, Rod Engleberg, at his shop, For Your Space Design, in Chicago. Sellers custom designs and builds cabinets for homes. Much of his business derives from Oak Park and River Forest.Photos by J. GEIL/Staff Photographer

Craig Sellers started his career making toys for children but ended up fulfilling an entirely different creative calling as a self-taught designer of innovative built-in cabinetry. In a few short years, Sellers has become an accomplished carpenter, designing and building built-in cabinetry for clients in the western suburbs and throughout Chicago. He is sought after in Oak Park and River Forest for his ability to imbue the area’s older homes with modern functionality.

Sellers studied industrial design at the University of Illinois, but his first job after graduating was designing toys. Initially, the job fulfilled his creative needs but as the work became more about making flow charts instead of building his own toy models, he began to get disinterested. Thankfully, his wife Stephanie had always supported his creative side by finding him odd jobs building things. When Sellers decided to take a new career path designing and building custom-made cabinetry, he had Stephanie’s full support.

“I’m self-trained,” he says. “I really learned to build things through trial and error and reading a lot of books. Actually building the cabinets themselves is mostly just building boxes. It’s the design part that’s more interesting.”

His methodical, design-centered work helped build a viable reputation, which led to a career bigger than Sellers ever envisioned.

“I started in the basement of our apartment building,” he remembers. “Then we bought a house, and I moved into our basement and garage. Then, I rented a 1,200-square foot shop. As business grew, I needed more space. Now, I operate my business, For Your Space Design, out of a 3,200-square foot shop and have two employees.”

Sellers has found that word of mouth advertising has really helped his business grow. “Almost every job begins with the phone ringing, and it’s a friend of a friend on the other end who wants me to build something for them.”

About five years ago, that’s how he met Colleen Murray and Lori Wolfson of Oak Park. After receiving a personal recommendation, they called Sellers to add some built-ins to their 1920’s Oak Park Avenue home. They had an existing fireplace but wanted to add more storage.

According to Murray, Craig made the process incredibly simple. “He came out and took a look at our house and sketched a design. He did the building and painting off site, so there was no mess in our house. He followed the home’s existing molding in creating the bookcases, making it look like it was always here. He made it all look so easy.”

Sellers is careful to make sure that each of his design fits the home’s personality. He always begins the process with a site visit. “I can’t give an estimate over the phone. I need to see the space. At that first appointment, I find out what the clients want. Most of the time, it comes down to aesthetics and problem solving.”

At that initial meeting, Sellers takes dimensions, and then works on a computerized design which he submits to the clients along with an estimate. Once the client has agreed to have Sellers do the work, he focuses on refining the original drawing. “I tweak it to make it work functionally and aesthetically. I take pictures of the home’s existing molding so that I can match that. When creating the final design, I take care to consider stain samples, door styles and hardware.”

Sellers notes that Oak Park and River Forest’s older housing stock creates a demand for his services.

“I’ve never worked in a new home out here. In the older houses, it’s really about maximizing what you have. In this economy, I’ve been busier than ever as people decide to stay put and stretch the space they have. I get a lot of calls from families with children or adding children to the mix. Storage solutions really make these old houses much more accommodating.”

Gina and Carl Daun of Oak Park recently hired Sellers to help them with master bedroom storage problems. Their 1927 brick colonial house had a small closet that had been altered unsuccessfully over its lifetime, and their room was cluttered with bureaus and dressers. After hearing her friends praise Sellers, Gina hired him to help create a more calming master suite.

“Our goal was to get all of our clothing into the built-in and get rid of our three dressers,” she says. “We wanted to make the room more of a master suite retreat.”

Sellers renovated the existing closet to create a single wall of storage with two wardrobes for hanging space flanking drawer space in the center. He worked carefully to closely match the trim work and style of the home. Now, the Dauns have space in their room for a sitting area, and their built-ins hold all their clothing with room to spare.

Gina says that the use of technology was a big advantage in working with Sellers. “With his computer-designed sketches, he can make changes and get them back to you quickly for approval. The turn-around time was fast, and I appreciated that his tech-savvy made him so responsive.”

As for Sellers himself, he can’t be more pleased with the direction his professional life has taken. While acknowledging that the downside to working independently is that the job is never ending, Sellers admits he is much more fulfilled now than he has ever been.

“What I do now is much more difficult and stressful than a nine to five job, but it’s far more rewarding. Every minute I spend working is for the benefit of my clients, my family and my employees.”

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