Hadeel Khater, co-owner of Four Rivers Studio, has passion to spare for woodwork and design. She shares the origins of the hardwood decor company she runs with her husband, the diligence behind every product, and their exciting plans for the studio.
What inspired you to open Four Rivers Studio?
My husband, Firas, and I have always been interested in thrifting and flipping furniture. We started casually making the occasional item for friends back in 2020. Once more and more people in our lives started reaching out for custom wood pieces, we decided to open an Etsy store to take more orders. We now have a website where people can order pieces like cutting boards, hardwood boxes, and calligraphy wall hangings that are inspired by Persian writing systems.
Where did you get the name Four Rivers Studio?
My husband always draws inspiration from different time periods and cultures. That’s his expertise. He’s getting a PhD as a historian from the University of Chicago. There’s an Ottoman legend that a nomad warrior had a dream of a tree bursting from his chest. Out of the tree came four rivers that each flowed in different directions across the world. This dream represented the warrior going on to found the Ottoman Empire and expand his dynasty across the world—just like the four rivers in his dream.
Firas is extremely interested in history. He recently made a cutting board out of wood that makes a gradient from light to dark. He says that piece represents a legend of the light from the creator coming down on all living things. A lot of his work is symbolic like that.
Do your pieces lean more modern or historical?
Not everything is necessarily Persian or Ottoman. Whatever I’m inspired to make at a certain time is what I decide to create, so I can’t even anticipate what I might decide to do next until the inspiration strikes me.
How does inspiration strike you?
I’m inspired by natural materials, color combinations, interesting use of lines, and pieces that create eye-catching visual depth. I try not to emulate anyone in particular. When I get inspiration to design a piece, I avoid looking at similar woodwork or furniture and instead try to manifest my whole vision on my own.
And I don’t like making the same thing twice. My husband is more methodical. He can produce a lot of similar pieces, like our calligraphy wall hangings, based on a similar theme or symbol. I like for each project to be the product of a single vision and to have a clear thought process from beginning to end.
Do you think mass-produced decor lacks that same thought process?
Totally. I always tell people, “You could go to a home goods store and find products like ours for less money. But you won’t get the same level of quality.” Mass-produced stuff doesn’t feature a well-thought-out design. There’s not as much consideration of the use of materials, what materials are appropriate, or how well they age—or even if they’re useful. Some of the cutting boards I see at home decor shops are made with woods that aren’t ideal for making cutting boards.
When you buy a piece from Four Rivers Studio, you aren’t just supporting us as a small business. We work full-time and have small children, and we still choose to do this work because we’re passionate about it. The passion, thought process, unique inspiration, and story behind each piece are all missing when you buy something mass made. Plus, you don’t know how sustainable their production processes are or even how well these goods support the people making them—even if the label says they’re “handmade” or “imported.”
Would you describe your woodworking process?
Once I visualize what I want to make, I then have to determine which materials to use to stay true to my inspiration. It’s a little chaotic. I sketch out my design, then decide on materials of various colors and styles. What would add an accent, like wood with a lot of character or knots in it? What would be a good supplement, like a contrasting shape? I like pairing simplicity with complexity. Then I’m out in the woodworking studio either freehanding a design or feeding it through a CNC [machinery software].
What are some of your favorite materials to design with?
We tend to use a lot of domestic hardwood like walnut, which is so classic and naturally beautiful. But we also sometimes import wood with unique colors or patterns you can’t really find around Chicago.
Who are some of your favorite designers?
I love the work of interior designers like Heidi Caillier or Carmeon Hamilton. My goal is to match the work of the Renovation Husbands. Their designs and vision are just amazing. My dream is to have our work featured in one of their projects.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I want to start making furniture and large wooden sculptures. I’m currently taking a joinery course at the Chicago School of Woodworking so I’m prepared to take on these larger pieces.