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Woodworking as art: Hickory Hills man has nailed it

Bill Atchiscustom woodworker stands near his statue depicting Easter Islhis home Hickory Hills IL Wednesday January 30 2013.  |

Bill Atchison, a custom woodworker, stands near his statue depicting Easter Island at his home in Hickory Hills, IL on Wednesday January 30, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 22, 2013 6:02AM



Sculpting wood into works of art is Bill Aitchison’s area of expertise.

Once the Hickory Hills man has an idea for a piece, his hands turn and craft it.

That’s how he came to build his home. Like all of his work, it started with an original idea.

“I always wanted to build a house,” Aitchison said. “And I thought it was the most fun I ever had.”

Aitchison wanted a party house — something different from average. When Phyllis, his wife of 52 years, realized he would never stop talking about building it, she decided to let him do it.

One needn’t know his address to guess which home on 91st Place belongs to Aitchison, 75. The muggy gray and sky blue wood siding contrasts with the brown and red brick siding of its neighbors. And then there’s the standalone Easter Island mailbox statue, carved out of wood, at the entrance of the driveway.

Bill and his son, Bill Jr., built the home about 15 years ago from the ground up. It took three years.

Working from the inside out, Aitchison started with what he knew he wanted: not a separate living room, kitchen and dining room, but an open space, allowing guests to watch television and talk to Phyllis while she cooked. So the only divider on the first floor would be a counter with an imitation marble top.

Like many pieces in the home, it’s made of wood and, because of the finish, isn’t what is seems. Aitchison takes pride in his originality and ability to disguise wood.

“He’s very creative and he has endless ideas,” Phyllis Aitchison said.

Take his “magic” coat closet near the front door. From the outside, it appears to be less than a foot from the front of the closet to the back wall. But it actually stretches back all the way into the garage.

There are also beds in the bedrooms that appear to be mysteriously floating because the base blends with the wooden floors. And then there’s the backyard birdhouse made completely out of wood scraps left over from other projects.

Since he was a child, Aitchison always enjoyed making things. He used to sneak into his dad’s tools. He made a sword out of orange juice cartons and a boat out of paper. His father would tell him to stay away from his tools, but Aitchison couldn’t help himself. He taught himself how to paint and build simply because he enjoyed it.

He started off as a painter like his father. But after repairing furniture for his co-workers and remodeling his boss’ home, Aitchison realized painting wasn’t enough. He wanted to do more, so he started his own business.

“I’ve always had the creative gene,” he said.

For more than 30 years, he’s done sculpting and woodwork from his home. He has made most of the furniture and artifacts in his home, from the round dining room table to the music speakers to the candy apple ring holder to the dancing jewelry box to his flower vase, one of his most elegant pieces.

He usually has a design in mind, but for the most part, “form just follows function,” he said.

He gets ideas from cartoons, too. The walking and talking clothes dresser in “Beauty and the Beast” inspired the dancing jewelry box, a wooden box that leans to the side.

“Anything you want, he’ll make for you,” Phyllis said.



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