Why Hollywood Loves This Chicago Custom Furniture Maker

Owner James Murphy of Superior Custom Furniture Repair and Restoration mixes blockbuster films with local jobs.

Photo by: Superior Custom Furniture Repair & Restoration Artisan Grimaldo Aybar working on a statue. Superior does private and corporate work and is contracted for annual touch-ups for corporate clients such as banks, legal firms, too. Elevators, sculptures, furniture and moldings are kept tip-top.

He has a Hollywood Walk of Fame client roster. And they call often. He’s delivered custom pieces for The Dark Knight, Boss, Chicago Fire, Pawn Queens, Chicago Code and Paul Newman back in the day. They did a post-apocalyptic bed for Divergence, currently in production. Throw in some political dynasties like the Kennedys, Chicago’s Daley machine and the Obamas. Oprah, too? Yep. The affable James Murphy, a Chicago native good with a story, has them beating down his door to “repair this,” “build that,” or “create these.” And do it quick. Murphy doesn’t do any advertising; his name gets dropped in someone's ear and they show up at the shop.

From the street it looks more like a train wreck than a glamorous woodworking studio. Located in 10,000 square feet at 5809 W. Division, the Far West Side shop has a cluttered, eccentric storefront window display of wind-up clocks, an old cash register and a mummy doffed with a Cubs hat. They’ve been in this spot for 13 years and inside is more of the same. A peddle organ found on the street is parked in a dusty corner. An old medical examination table awaits restoration. Sofas, armoires and antique chests in various stages of finishing, staining and reupholstering are stuffed in doorways and spill from rooms. A side table made from rare bird’s eye maple sits ready for prep. He shows us a current job: a set of late 1800s metal library shelves from the Carnegie Library, neatly stacked against a wall in a queue for stripping and waxing. Don't get fooled by the cosmetics. This is a real shop.

Everything is a custom job (they even strip by hand). They’ve been trained to work on top-shelf manufactures’ pieces, from Baker to Stickley to Lauren Home. They also work on the mid-range furnishers product, like Target, Ikea and Sears. Each brand has its own idiosyncratic process and they've got it down cold. “We’re all over the market, “Murphy says. “We have high-end accounts, mid-market accounts, and some lower-end accounts because we’re performing a service.” One of the more unusual pieces they’ve restored? A table owned by Napoleon Bonaparte. 

A substantial chunk of Murphy’s business is the on-location repair and restoration service.  He has three guys for this, including Tony Couty, a second generation restoration artist and Murphy’s right-hand man. The mobile restoration units take jobs all over Illinois and the Midwest – Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana. Need a touch-up to that desk? Did the dog chew through the leg of your dining room table … again? Ugly wine spills and rings on the cherry wood dresser from that party? Couty will do an assessment. If it’s a go, he’ll put it back in pristine shape while on-site. Unless it’s a nick, stain or break too severe and they have to haul it to the shop. 

And keep this on the front burner: Have you ever picked out your dream sofa and got it stuck trying to squeeze past the hinges on your front door? (We know, the measuring tape was wrong.) How about that custom buffet you finagled for a song, or that oddly shaped post-modern desk, or that Elizabethan headboard? It's too big to fit, right? Not at all. Murphy’s shop will reverse engineer it, professionally dis-assemble and re-assemble that voluptuous sofa or bed – it’s called a K.D. or Knock Down. All furniture is welcome. We've never heard of such a service until we met Murphy. And they guarantee the work. “You won’t be able to tell it was taken apart,” Murphy promises. And he’s got the reputation.

Check out Superior Custom Furniture Repair and Restoration. Telephone (773) 261-6600.

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