MOUNT HOREB — Brent Starck has great expectations for the cube shape. In fact, he's built an entire furniture system around it.

Starck is the co-founder of Drift Studio in Mount Horeb, a contemporary furniture business housed in a former downtown cheese factory.

The business has been in development for about a year, but only online sales are being made for now. The showroom is expected to open this fall.

All of the furniture pieces are constructed using square and rectangular panels that can be assembled "just like building blocks," Starck said of the furniture system he developed with two other partners.

Customers can use the panels and accompanying brackets to create modular cabinet systems, wall-hanging book shelves, coffee tables and other pieces.

Think high-end Ikea, only this furniture is made from Baltic Birch plywood and can come "skinned" in a variety of prints or decorated with intricate carvings. "You get to control not only the form, but what the content is," Starck said.

Starck co-founded the business with Heath Matysek-Snyder, a faculty associate in the UW-Madison art department, and Chris Hindle, an artist and art teacher.

In May, Drift Studio debuted its square and rectangular "Riff System" at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City. Since then, the group has focused on fine-tuning prototypes, developing the company's website and finishing the studio and gallery space in Mount Horeb.

Drift Studio is a second career for Starck, 41.

After graduating from UW-Madison, he became a computer software designer and started his own business. About four years ago, he sold that business and moved his family from Chicago to Madison, where he became a chef and opened a restaurant in Mineral Point — Cafe Four — in addition to taking furniture design classes at UW-Madison.

For the last three years, he's been trying to decide between food and art. Art and furniture won and he turned over operation of his restaurant and started focusing on a contemporary furniture concept.

"This is really my passion," said Starck, who comes from a family of woodworkers.

About three years ago, he purchased the old cheese factory at 103 S. Second St., next to the Grumpy Troll. It eventually will serve as a space to prototype new products, showcase current furniture and display other pieces of art.

The business also has the potential to expand into a showroom in Madison, where Starck also owns a storefront on Williamson Street.

He declined to say how much he invested in the company.

At this point, Drift Studio has sold only a few pieces to people and companies that have found the business online. However, "our priority is not to be open to the public right now. Our priority is to get our first product for sale," Starck said.

The Mount Horeb showroom likely won't have regular hours, but will instead hold a big art show once the remodeling is finished this fall, followed by smaller shows throughout the winter.

Most of the company's sales are expected to be made online. Drift Studio will sell to both wholesale customers, such as niche furniture stores, and individuals. The website is expected to be fully developed by September.

Given the current economy, Starck said he is concerned about how Drift Studio will fit in with other furniture companies and succeed. But "all we can do is try," he said. "We think we have something that's pretty unique."

Hindle, who's trained as a sculptor, said Drift Studio, also will operate as a "think tank" for artists — a place where they can gather, experiment and develop their craft.

"When this building's done, this is going to be a power house of capability ... because of the equipment and the people involved," he said.

That concept of a combined studio and gallery isn't new, but Hindle said it is not widely seen in the Madison area.

"I think for this area, it certainly has a level of uniqueness to it, especially with how rapidly it's coming together (and) how rapidly we're actually producing something," he said.