Humans of Sweet Water...Meet Rudy Taylor

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In 2016, Rudy Taylor was introduced to Sweet Water Foundation through a long-time, mutual colleague and mentor. Intrigued by the organization’s work and camaraderie, Rudy began to practice his craft - furniture design - out of a small area at Sweet Water Foundation’s workshop. Slowly, but surely, he became more engaged with the carpentry program and began supporting young apprentices. A native of Chicago, graduate of Hales Franciscan and the University of Illinois at Chicago, Rudy is now on board full-time as Mentor and Industrial Designer working to share his passion for furniture design with SWF apprentices.


Tell us a little about your background:

I am a native of Chicago and graduate of Hales Franciscan High School. I attended the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and graduated with a degree in Industrial and Product Design. For the last 25 years or so, I have worked in custom, high-end furniture and cabinetry shops.

Many folks don’t know this, but I played the trumpet back in high school and continued playing for nearly 15 years. I don’t have many regrets in life, but not staying with the music is one.

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What is your role here at Perry Ave Commons?

More than anything, I am a mentor working with SWF apprentices on various carpentry and construction projects. We just finished building elements of SWF’s installation for the Smart Museum of Art on the University of Chicago campus. Our work will be displayed in the museum’s lobby through summer 2018. I am also also designing a line of chairs, some of which will be available for purchase at the Chicago Design Market in November.


How did you get involved with Sweet Water Foundation?

Just to show you how funny life works, when I was an undergrad, the gentleman who was the dean of my college at UIC, years later was on the administration at Cornell University. He was in the Art and Architecture school. That’s where he met Emmanuel (SWF’s Co-founder and Executive Director). Now flash forward a few years, I was doing some independent building and designing. The gentleman I mentioned introduced me to Emmanuel. Emmanuel was nice enough to let me have a little shop space to let me work on my own stuff. My other job, unfortunately, dried up… or, fortunately, I should say. I had naturally become part of the team and Emmanuel asked me to join full-time with Sweet Water Foundation.  It was a good thing.


If you had unlimited resources, what project would you dedicate yourself to on the Perry Ave Commons?

I am interested coordinating the design of chairs and lighting for retail. I have been brainstorming over the last couple of weeks and have come up with a pretty strong lighting concept, a floor lamp. It is a nice, straight forward build that the apprentices can get involved with.

Rudy working with apprentices on reclaimed folding chairs and benches.

Rudy working with apprentices on reclaimed folding chairs and benches.

What is a notable memory that you’ve had with SWF?

Just being able to have a positive impact. One thing that’s important to me, aside from the hands-on skills of building, is setting up a good, stable, and positive environment. I really enjoy the family atmosphere at Sweet Water Foundation, it’s important. We try to plant the seeds for the apprentices to have a good attitude and work ethic. I think that’s one of the main things we do is instill the importance of these values in the young people. Everybody's’ got a story. Everybody’s got some kind of frustrations or life issues they’ve got to deal with, but you need to have a good attitude to focus and work with your teammates. I think that’s just as important as the skill set or the hands-on training because they can take that to any job environment.


Tell us about the furniture design process and some projects you’re working on.

I usually approach my design projects sculpturally; a sculptural kind of aesthetic to give it an interesting look aesthetically first. The approach I learned from one of my instructors in school, was to make it look good because that’s what we are attracted to, we’re all visual people.

With lighting projects, I like to play between light and whatever you use for the shade itself. How much light it lets through or how much light it controls and diffuses. Even though I’m not a real lighting expert, building lighting is one of my favorite endeavors.

Images of Rudy's latest lighting project from concept sketch to fabrication.

Images of Rudy's latest lighting project from concept sketch to fabrication.

What has been your favorite design project so far?

The Smart Museum project has been very interesting. The installation is a high-profile project and we’re created a variety of things. We recreated the facade to the Think-Do 2 House, which is the house donated to SWF that we will rehab in the near future. This part of the installation is interesting because you’re scaling something down and trying to make it visually interesting while keeping it in proportion to reality.

I am also very excited about a lighting concept that I recently designed using the discarded plastic tubes that Emmanuel gets from a supplier. The light is tall with a slim profile that I’ve designed specifically for Sweet Water Foundation.


Favorite Book:  The Bible


Favorite Movie:  Zombie movies, just for escapism and a little fun, and old classics like the Godfather.


Favorite Music:  House and reggae music.


Jia Li Pratt