Before he decided to follow his passion for design, Brian Keith Ellison began his career in the real estate development business. Initially overseeing construction operations for a Chicago affordable housing developer, Ellison later spent 8 years at The Habitat Company as a real estate Development Manager. Here he was involved in managing the redevelopment of nearly 4,000 public housing units at Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor sites. Ellison also held Board of Director positions with various not-for-profit organizations such as Bethel New Life, the Chicago Public Arts Group, and Holsten Human Capital Management.
Introduced to woodworking when he was a child, Ellison developed his skills in high school woodworking class, and throughout his academic pursuits for a Bachelors of Architecture degree at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus. This growing interest in woodworking and design intrigued him enough to step aside from his real estate development career in 2006 to pursue his passion full time.
After over 15 years in the real estate development industry, Ellison moved to Amsterdam, The Netherlands, to focus on woodworking and design full time. Obtaining his Visa through the Dutch-American Friendship Treaty, he negotiated a 2-year partnership agreement with the late and talented Dutch designer Faas van Dijk of OZENFANT DURANT. The duo partnered on several projects, including the posh and popular tourist attraction "La Remise" bed & breakfast in central Amsterdam.
Ellison’s work sits in the homes of art collectors, restaurants and historic buildings and his 613 Table series can be found in the Chicago Mayor’s office. He currently continues to design and fabricate custom projects for residential, commercial and corporate clients.
In addition to his design work, Ellison remains very active in the not-for-profit sector, conducting woodworking workshops for returning citizens for the Safer Foundation, creating public art, and providing woodworking education for local youth.
“I worked with Brian on a large, custom, upholstered headboard for a downtown Chicago vacation residence. His proposal was the most thorough of all the bids we received and clearly presented the value he would bring to the project. Brian exhibited open and prompt communication and flexibility to engineer a solution my team and our client loved.”
/ Lorin J. from Centaur Construction /
Against the Grain
Between 2001 - 2006, Ellison traveled extensively through Europe, and visited Johannesburg, South Africa where he joined a team of volunteers to build an AIDS hospice center. This 15-day experience was a life changing one for Ellison. Another key experience during this period was his visit to Burningman Festival and the introduction to the art and of Poi fire dancing.
Upon his return to Chicago in 2008, Brian met his life partner, Asali Naimah, a corporate administrator, part-time workshop facilitator and dance instructor whom he later married in 2010. Today, the couple enjoys their separate careers and when time permits, they like to share their passion of performance as a duet for special events.
In January 2015, Ellison was part of the 13-person cast for Spike TV’s “Framework”, a furniture design-based reality competition. Appearing on 8 out of the 10 episodes of this single season project, Ellison had the opportunity to engage with some of the most talented designers and fabricators in the country. (www.spiketv.com/shows/framework)