Kenneth James Thelen

Kenneth James Thelen

Kenneth James Thelen of Dunwoody, 90, surrounded by loving family, passed away peacefully Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018.

Born June 5, 1928, in Chicago, Ill., Ken was the son of the late Mary (Cicero) and John Thelen.

Ken is fondly remembered as a family man, devoted to old-fashioned American values. In Illinois, he started a Little League team, a Boy Scout troop, was a Rotarian, and was on the church council. Family stories abound of snowmobiling, horseback riding, and boating with family and friends. Later, his grandchildren were regular objects of his affection.

In Atlanta, Braves baseball ruled his summers, and many were privileged to gain seats from his season tickets. He was a member of All Saints Catholic Church. Honesty, an endearing gruffness, his “make it work” design ethic, and heart of gold made him a man who was highly respected and loved by his family and friends. 

He graduated from Harper High School in Chicago and from the University of Illinois with a degree in architectural engineering. After serving in the U.S. Army in Italy, he operated his own architectural firm, Thelen Associates, in DeKalb, Ill., during the 1960s. His company designed numerous remodeled and new construction projects including the Tyler School, the Northern Illinois University (NIU) Art Building, and NIU’s Davis Hall observatory.  Additionally, Ken served as the president for the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In the 1970s, he turned his expertise to the specialized area of kitchen and bath design, working in Fort Myers, Fla., and in Atlanta.

Ken lived in Dunwoody for more than 43 years, and it was here that he spotted a need for fine cabinetry and design. In 1979, he purchased Kitchens from Germany, renaming it through the years until it finally became Thelen Design Build. The business brought a unique service to the community by offering a specialty in kitchen and bath design combined with architectural and construction expertise. Ken’s son, Randy, worked with him from start to finish, but all his children and other family members worked in the business at various times until it was retired in 2011. In addition to countless letters of appreciation from his clients, Ken considered one of the highest compliments to be the real estate ads that boasted a “Thelen” kitchen.

A leader within the industry, he was the first Certified Kitchen Designer (CKD) in Atlanta and one of the first to promote the use of design retainer fees, a hallmark of first-rate service to clients. He was one of the few, if not the only, CKD who was also a registered architect. For several years, he served as a National Director for the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) and was a founding member and two-term president of NKBA’s Georgia Chapter. He was instrumental in the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and was recognized by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation for a remodeling project in Rome, Ga. He valued continuing professional education and encouraged his staff to achieve certifications. Furthermore, he was steadfast in his belief of hand-drafted design, which enables the designer to become thoroughly intimate with a project.

Within the Dunwoody community, Thelen was a supporter of various local fund-raising events and helped donate the monument for the Hightower Indian Trail Historic Marker in 1997. He served on the board of directors for the Dunwoody Nature Center and included Thelen Design Build as an inaugural Dunwoody Chamber of Commerce member. Furthermore, he was an influence in expanding the Atlanta Junior League Tour of Kitchens to include the Dunwoody area and was selected to be on the tour for at least seven years.

More recently, Ken brought his experience to the fledgling city of Dunwoody by helping to develop the new city’s building codes.

Ken is survived by his devoted wife of 59 years, Diane J. (Lindgren) Thelen; sons Randy (Cindy) of Cumming, GA; Jeff (Cailin) of Dunwoody; daughter Jackie (Scott) of Dunwoody; grandchildren, Jason (Monika) of Athens, GA, R. J. of Buford, GA, Valentina of Dunwoody, and great granddaughter, Blake of Athens, and step-grandson, Will of Cumming. He is also survived by his brother, Dan of Belleville, Ill.

In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by his brothers, Don and Bob. A memorial service is being planned for a later date in 2019, and donations in his name may be made to: Shriners Hospitals for Children, 844-739-0849 (donation line) or shrinershospitalsforchildren.org.

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