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The State of Good Design

Southern Belle turned Oak Parker brings clever design work to her online side project.

After college and a stint designing carpet patterns for the health care industry, Julie Purpura left her native South Carolina "where even the design is conservative and safe," in search of change. 

"I randomly picked Chicago because I heard it was awesome," she said. 

Lucky us. 

In her day job, Purpura, 29, is a designer with the Simeone Deary Design Group, best known for its work within Chicago's posh Elysian Hotel. 

She's also one half of 900 Blok, an online store front she co-founded with a college friend, Jonathan Lancaster. The pair's latest creations, coffee tables and end tables custom-cut to resemble individual states, are getting some online attention

Purpura, who now resides in her (tastefully designed, naturally) apartment in Oak Park, said the inspiration for the tables is rooted in civic pride. 

"There's so much pride for the state where I grew up and where I live now. Even in Chicago, people have so much pride. But I don't want to get some tattoo. I don't want to wear a T-shirt," she said. "I thought it would be fun to accessorize my home in a subtle way to represent who I am and where I'm from."

The number of orders has been low but the interest is high. After the tables were recently featured on popular blog Design Sponge, Purpura said she fielded 50-some emails asking about the project. 

In her Lake Street living room, you'll find some samples of the finished tables. There's Illinois, Ohio, South Carolina and California. Why California? "Because I thought the hipsters there might buy it," she joked. 

Orders take about two weeks to complete. Purpura creates the design and sends the measurement specs to the customer. When confirmed, she sends plans to Lancaster, a millworker who works in South Carolina, for precision laser cuts.

The tables gets paint, three coats of lacquer and legs; the customer gets a unique piece of furniture. 

Interested in learning more? Visit the 900 Blok website and Facebook page. 

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