By Jennifer Piggins   Published Jun 11, 2003 at 5:43 AM

You may not have heard of him yet, but Milwaukeean Daniel Spack is busy making a name for himself as a furniture designer with a social conscience. I recently sat down with the artist at Jacques' French Deli in Walker's Point to find out what makes him tick. What I discovered is that Spack, like his furniture, is a true original.

Spack creates one-of-a-kind furniture and installations for people who have grown weary of the banal mall choices like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware; people who don't want to become usurped by the Borg-like homogenization of American culture.

Spack himself tends to reject things considered mainstream in favor of an existence he would describe as more vividly satisfying. This is not a person who has done much by the book -- he rejected traditional education by dropping out of high school and taught himself the craft of making furniture. But don't be fooled into thinking his grey matter is somehow lacking. On the contrary, Spack is sharp as a tack.

Having worked for many years as a carpenter in Milwaukee and Chicago, Spack has developed a prescient awareness of how to build things well. Actually, his talent was nascent at a very early age -- Spack recalls experimenting with different approaches to making things out of wood when he was just 8 or 9 years old. When asked how he forayed into furniture design, his reply is simple and matter-of-fact: "One day I realized I could make a chair and just went from there." And for the past three years, he has been making much more than chairs.

A great deal of Spack's work is site-specific, such as the bar he designed for Dancing Ganesha, an Indian-fusion restaurant at Brady and Van Buren Streets. He works closely with his clients to understand the overall feeling of the space, how it will be lit, who will occupy it, and then goes to work making sure his contribution will synchronize with all of the other components.


Although just about each piece he makes is unique, the bar is signature Spack because it incorporates his favorite materials: Russian plywood, cold rolled steel and concrete. He says he is particularly enamored of the materials because of their strength, durability and beauty.

"And aside from those qualities," says Spack, "I understand how (the materials) behave."

A plastic obsession came not from that classic line in "The Graduate" but from a "dead-grass-green" tobacco pouch he bought for a couple of dollars at a vintage store. He wants to begin working with plastic but is still trying to grasp its traits.

"When I figure out how to use plastic, I'll probably make everything out of it," he says with a chuckle.

His clients are often those who can afford to buy something exclusive and original. But Spack also has a tendency to work with people he believes in and to barter with those clients if it's mutually beneficial.

Spack is currently creating some pieces for Jill Seebantz, owner of the Center for Body Awareness in Milwaukee, which offers an array of wellness services.

"I can't believe how lucky I am to work on this project. Jill is really doing something worthwhile for people," says Spack. "She's not just about the bottom line."

Spack is building a special floor and juice bar for the center. Seebantz is equally pleased to have Spack working for her.

"Daniel is a gem to find," she says. "Creatively he was able to provide exactly what I wanted for the space."

He dreams of one day making furniture for airports or hospitals, places where people are generally miserable while waiting for their flights or healthcare. The way Spack sees it, that misery derives from the physical discomfort experienced while sitting in completely non-ergonomic chairs and looking around at ugliness.

Spack says that he loves living and working in Milwaukee.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now. Milwaukee has beautiful architecture and amazing artists live here."

He considers Milwaukee a particularly fecund environment for creative people and gets a lot of inspiration just being around them. Like Spack, many artists are living or have studios in Walker's Point.

"I can't wait to see what happens in the Milwaukee art scene over the next few years," he says. Truth be told, neither can we.