Arlen DeRussy ( 34, Ravenswood ) pictured in his house. ( Lenny Gilmore/…
"Watch your head" is a helpful hint Arlan DeRussy imparts upon entering his apartment/workshop. DeRussy, 34, who freelances industrial design, has turned a garden studio in Ravenswood into both a museum for past experiments and a functional workspace. A self described "emporium of oddities" the apartment is a jam-packed exercise in form meeting function, where delicate objects like a handmade wooden clock sit neatly perched near a soon-to-be-welded moped renovation.
Walking through the space is an immersive experience like stepping into a page of DeRussy's sketchbook. Most objects are past projects, from bamboo pottery to welded lounge chairs. Reclaimed planks reclaimed run throughout the apartment--"they help control the clutter," he says--and display the various objects. "I could walk through and give you a story about everything," DeRussy said. "I have a big-ass laser beam that makes crop circles I made for a physics project, and a fractal pyramid made out of copper that was the only way I could pass a math class."
Tucked in the back is the workshop, where large wood scraps meet minuscule screws in an experiment in organized chaos. Custom storage helps separate the eclectic materials that are used for both passion projects and commissioned work. "Mopeds, welding, painting, wood working; this workshop is the sponge for my tools and materials," he said. "There are a lot of half-finished projects and some stuff from when I was a kid, like a mechanical hand, that I still work on."
"It's really rough down here, which is kind of my lifestyle," DeRussy said of the studio-sized space. "Nothing's fenced in, there's no doors. I've come to find of all the spaces that I've lived, regardless of size, [that] limitations breed creativity."
Scattered blueprints, protractors and a coating of wood shavings are evidence of projects constantly in motion, including custom wood and steel tables. "My advice for those of you who have small spaces and want to do a lot of work is perch your scraps and materials. If you're not using it get rid of it. I've spent a lot of time moving things around only to get rid of it 4-5 years later. Don't let things pile up."
Clients can request a table using reclaimed wood and steel which pieces can range from small to very large. "It's just one of those things. If I wanna go big, I gotta go messy," he said.
DeRussy's passion for tinkering has a helpful upside: He continually customizes his living space to fit his needs. "One of the worst places that I've lived was in Albany Park, where I spent half a year rebuilding the kitchen and bathroom because they were so dingy and moldy. I needed some extra security so I welded a big gate to put in front of my door. It's reinforced with an old Singer sewing machine, and you can still see some of the detail, so if they did break in they would see parts of the sewing machine and run away."
But his home isn't all screws, tools, scraps and blueprints. "I don't know why I have this gargoyle ... it's just good luck I guess," he said.