Opening New Doors in Custom Cabinetry
Wheaton Associates celebrates 35 years of creative design and fabrication of custom millwork and interiors
Robert Heggeland, Founder of Oswego-based Wheaton Associates, Inc., jokes about the hard work it has taken to be where he is today in this industry: “When we celebrated 35 years last year, my motto was “This gray hair’s no accident. I earned every one.” Beyond a few gray hairs, Heggeland and team has also earned the respect and gratitude of a satisfied clientele.
Specializing in custom architectural millwork and cabinetry since 1984, Wheaton Associates is unique in the fact that the company approaches each job from a design and architectural perspective. Heggeland himself is an architect by trade, and his team is comprised of artists, designers, graphic artists, architects and other construction professionals. Offering design-build engineering (CAD-CNC) as well, Wheaton Associates serves both Chicagoland and a national customer base.
Relationships by Design
Heggeland started out as a retail designer, having worked at a millwork company from 1977 to 1984, before venturing out on his own. When he left his previous job, in fact, customers were calling him, asking “How am I going to get this stuff designed and built?” Heggeland responded, “Since I designed it for you, I’ll broker it for you.” That’s how he started building relationships with different cabinet companies.
He reflects, “One of the issues that we were finding was for the first several years, I’d be designing for companies like Shell Oil Company or White Hen Pantry or any retail store, and I was able to get the stuff made as a broker. But, you really don’t want to find out from your customer that something’s wrong when it shows up in the field.”
It was at that point (around 1992) that Heggeland started his own shop in Wheaton. “Since then,” he says, “we’ve been very hands-on. Our strength is really the fact that we understand what an architect is typically looking for, even if sometimes he or she has some trouble describing it. We have people here who are very intuitive to that.”
Commercial Custom Work
Wheaton’s main services include cabinetry, countertops, custom millwork, trims, custom finishing walls, panels...any type of custom work. With a strong focus on commercial projects, one third of what Wheaton Associates does is either assisted living or hospital. “We’re probably doing four assisted living facilities right now,” says Heggeland. “We also do a lot of hotels. We just finished the Paragon at 1326 S. Michigan Ave., and now we’re completing the Hyatt Hotel—a dual-branded Hyatt Place and The Hyatt House—in the old Cook County hospital building in Chicago, which was built about 1910 and is being converted to a hotel.”
Singing from the Same Music
Aside from the creative and experienced team, Heggeland offers up another big differentiator between Wheaton Associates and your typical millwork company: lead time. He notes that the first question a general contractor or a builder will ask is “What’s your lead time?”
Heggeland says, “The answer really depends on when you’re able to get started. So, if you have, for example, the shop drawings approved and you have the color samples approved and you have the field dimensions—those three things are what will allow us to start. My response to the lead time question is always, ‘What do you need the lead time to be?’ Our tendency is to take what their end date is and work backwards. We tell them we need to have the shop drawings to them by this date, and we need them approved by this date, so we’ve pre-benchmarked everything. I don’t know of any other millwork company that does that.”
Ultimately, the concept is that lead time is based on the customer’s needs, not on Wheaton’s needs. “So,” Heggeland adds, “that keeps us singing from the same music.”