Water Works

Michael Heltzer was a rookie lawyer in the late eighties when he heard furniture’s call, and began sketching designs at night in his Logan Square apartment. After selling a few tables, he quit law-and the apartment, setting up base in an old Ravenswood candy factory.

One of the most innovative furniture designers in the country, Heltzer quickly won recognition for his wares.

Now Heltzer, 41, has a line of 180 products selling in show rooms throughout Europe and the United States (including the Merchandise Mart). His success called for another change in operations: Heltzer has converted the oldest boatyard on the North Branch of the Chicago River-where it meets Irving Park Road, near Horner Park-into his new manufacturing and design facility.

In the late 1800s the Bond family, whose 72-year-old grandson sold the yard to Heltzer, settled here and began building boats. Though Heltzer has added his contemporary sensibility-renovating one corner of a pre-existing 60,00-square-foot building with stainless steel and glass-the spirit of the old place is still present. A man sands his boat at the dock. Sea birds scurry along the bank. Heltzer’s product designer/engineer, Joe Litzenberger, spends his breaks collecting tadpoles from the river.

“I went from the 89th floor of the Sears Tower to the river’s edge,” Heltzer says. “And I like the view from the river’s edge a whole lot more.”

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