Ian Byrne is well-known in Kansas City and beyond as the lead singer of the Elders, a band that plays Irish music. He is also an accomplished woodworker who does commercial and residential custom millwork and woodwork at Byrne Custom Woodworking in Lenexa.
Earlier this year Byrne opened a retail shop, Off the Floor Woodwork, in Waldo. It’s a place you can find furniture, shutters and unique items of home decor made from scrap wood.
How did all this get started?
I grew up in Avoca, County Wicklow, and moved to the U.S. in 1987 with my American-born wife, Kathy Quinn, whom many people know from Fox 4 News. I built Byrne Custom Woodworking from scratch beginning in 1990, when a guy let me borrow his double-car garage. Next, I opened a 1,200-square-foot shop in Grandview. It kept growing, and we moved to Martin City, Southwest Boulevard and the West Bottoms before taking over a 30,000-square-foot space in Lenexa. We have 18 people working there.
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What kinds of projects do you do at the Lenexa plant?
We have customers all over the country; I also have a client in Spain. With the Internet, you’re worldwide.
Right now I’m doing a kitchen with rift-cut white oak. It’s very modern. We’re keeping all the grain horizontal. I just built a big staircase with old solid heart reclaimed pine treads, 12 by 4 inches thick. With the blocks left over, I made framed wood collages and wall art.
Tell me about your Waldo shop.
This is an offshoot. I’d been wanting a retail store where we could show off our plantation shutter wood blinds; we also utilize waste lumber to make wall art and smaller items. Often I come here and meet clients.
This was an old gas station, built in 1922. I did the interior walls in reclaimed lumber from Elmwood Reclaimed Lumber near Peculiar. I do a lot of work with Elmwood. They specialize in lumber from old buildings and barns, including joists and trusses. They power-wash and denail it.
And it’s a family business?
The kids — Kian, 28, Andreina, 23, and Kaitlin, 26 — have been working with me since they could walk. Kian, who is the drummer for the Elders, does collages. We have a couple on display that he made from staircase spindle offcuts, which he painted. Andreina also does wall art, and Kaitlin does the website and a lot of our social media work.
My sister-in-law, Bibi (Elizabeth Quinn Babcock), does jewelry and custom sign-making. You can have a custom sign made with any font or text, any wood species and any finish, fabricated within two to three days. We also carry dichroic glass jewelry by Kathy’s cousin, Rosemary Garcia Hedwig, who is based in Branson.
Tell me about some of the other items you have for sale here.
The first thing I made was that painted white cupboard with the glass door. We do a lot of painted finishes and antique finishes. I’ve made mirrors, bookcases, armoires and also shelf units recycled from shutters that came out wrong. I used leftover wood from the Cerner buildings by the NASCAR track to make frames for photographs of Ireland that we sell, like that one of Temple Bar in Dublin.
There’s an obvious Celtic influence in many of the pieces here.
I made that end table with the Celtic carving on the back out of pine reclaimed from an old factory on Main Street. I call it a “Celtic Dolmen Table” after those gray stone tombs in Ireland. The legs are abnormal — they taper upward like the stones. They’ve been very popular. We sell them for $599.
With this “Celtic Knot Cabinet,” I wanted to make it look like an Irish cabinet. It has spiral feet, a serpent carving on the drawer front and a Celtic cross at the top. That’s an infinity knot, with no start and no end, carved on the cupboard front.
How did you learn to do this?
I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. My dad was a drilling engineer and geologist, and he did woodworking as a hobby. I grew up working with him. I use chisels and hammers. There’s no machine work in the carvings. It’s all hand-done.
Of course, this is not your only career.
The Elders play 110 shows a year, so we’re traveling a lot. We do Irish festivals all over the country, and we make an annual trip to Ireland with 100 to 150 fans. There’s a bit of cross-pollination. A lot of Elders fans come in here, and we have an “Elders Corner” with CDs and T-shirts. We’re working on a new album that will be released Aug. 29, and there’s a DVD for PBS that will be aired Aug. 15 on Channel 19. It will be available for purchase here or at EldersMusic.com.
How do you have time for both?
I have a great crew. You’re only as good as the people around you. I used to work in the shop more; now I’m in the office, and I spend most of my time with clients. After 4:30 I go in the shop and do my stuff. I wish there was more time in the day. I have so many ideas I want to do.