Above & Beyond the GrainDec 30, 2021 11:37AM ● By Sean Robinson
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Brian Michaelis’ hands have seen better days. Both are cracked and calloused—
a sported pair that’s been put to the test after decades of wear and tear. Though they might not have a future career in modeling, what they can do is undeniably impressive. They’re proof that pretty and perfection don’t always go hand in hand.
“My hands are full of scars from years of abuse. Yet, I depend on them every day, and even at 41 years old I heal very fast,” Michaelis said.
Michaelis is a celebrated furniture maker specializing in high-end custom cabinets and cabinet doors. Essentially, his hands are his paintbrush—the tools he uses to turn blocks and boards of maple, ash, or red oak into works of art. Since founding his artisan business Beyond the Grain in 2013, Michaelis has strived to make nothing but the best.
“I’m inspired by doing something I haven’t done before. I could make more money if I went into commercial cabinets, but to me this isn’t just about profits,” Michaelis said. “Every job I take, I want the next one to be better than the last.”
It was a 10th birthday gift that put it all into motion. Michaelis’ dad, a general contractor, gave him a handsaw to begin developing woodworking skills at an early age. Those skills would eventually serve as the foundation of his future career.
“My dad would sit there, drink his beer, and he’d say ‘You have to do this or that first,’” Michaelis said. “So, I like to think I’m self-taught with the guidance of my dad’s words.”
The sawdust lifestyle didn’t come to Michaelis immediately after high school. His hands were first put to the test in the world of automobiles, working in mom-and-pop mechanic shops and for Jensen Tire for a time. Still, as a hobby, he was always making little pieces of furniture for family and friends.
After getting tired of being greasy all the time, he left his career as an auto mechanic in his late 20s to focus on his real passion: building cabinets. Michaelis balanced a full-time job at custom cabinet shop European Designs with side projects for a time.
“It got to the point where I had so much work on the side, I was doing 8- to 10-hour days at the shop, then I’d come home and continue until bed. I said, ‘to heck with it’ and started Beyond the Grain.”
Four years ago, Michaelis moved his shop from his home to a shared rental space near 90th Street and Irvington Road. His client base continues to grow.
Though he now has running a business to focus on, Michaelis hasn’t pumped the brakes on his creative drive. For him, it’s still all about woodworking that wows, taking on the difficult, detailed work others won’t or can’t do.
From creating a floating cloud installation hung from the ceiling of a local hair salon, to constructing a home theater room incorporating steel beams and angled glass for superior acoustics, Michaelis loves tackling it all. And if it involves working with walnut—his favorite
wood for its variety and natural beauty—even better.
“He’s very meticulous, intricate, and I always trust what he builds is going to be of the highest quality. If I have a challenging project, he is usually the first person I call for help,” said Justin Mollak, president of Mollak Custom Carpentry.
If Michaelis has any say, those hands of his aren’t getting a rest anytime soon.
“Anything that’s custom or out of the normal…That’s where I really shine.”