Fine Craftsmen in Asheville, NC
January 26, 2014 by Susan Murray
There is a stereotype of the North Carolina Mountain man as being rough, uneducated and uncultured but like any stereotype its truth is far from all-encompassing. For me, an unexpected and greatly appreciated aspect to life in Asheville is the number and quality of fine craftsmen who live and work here. It has been a real pleasure for James and me to meet and talk with them about their work. From pottery to stained glass, clock repair to metal work, cabinetry to stonework, James and I have been able to find skilled artisans to help us maintain and operate the 115 year old house which is home to our Asheville Bed & Breakfast.
But it is not just the house which needs a lot of TLC. James and I also have a number of older pieces of furniture which are occasionally in need of repair and restoration– the “vaisselier“ in the dining room being one of them. This dauntingly large buffet was one of the first pieces we bought at the Marche aux Puces when we lived in Paris. While parts of
it are quite old (as much as 300 years old according to the seller), pieces have been repaired and replaced over the years making it mostly valuable in our eyes but less so to a true antique lover. Nevertheless, when one of the doors finally fell off beyond our abilities to rig a repair we went looking for some professional help.
We started by calling our friend, Caine McDonald of Dry Ridge Builders. Caine specializes in the restoration of old houses in the historic Montford and Chestnut Hill areas of Asheville and he sent us on on to Marc Mandon, an antique furniture restorer who
works out of the River Arts District. Looking at Marc’s website we knew we were on to something really special. Marc is able to reconstruct and repair furniture in all kinds of disrepair even when it has been reduced to what is really just a pile of sticks through time and misfortune. In addition to this, he designs and builds pieces of his own which honor the wood and complements the beauty of its nature.
Broken door in hand, we took a trip down to Mountain Restoration. The front of the workshop displays furniture Marc designed and built, which we admired before being admitted into his workshop. Marc is a gentle and soft-spoken man who got his start in woodworking building boats in St. Croix. There he also worked as a carpenter in a furniture restoration shop for three years before moving on to his own shop. We asked Marc why he moved to Asheville and he was quite honest in admitting that he could only live the island life style for so long before it lost its allure! Asheville, with its hardwood forests and treasure trove of hundred-plus-year old homes and furniture, drew him here.
Marc carefully looked at the damaged door we had brought with us and he and James discussed options while I explored. The workshop was a jumble of wood, tools and furniture. In one corner were new pieces Marc was working on. In another corner a pile of bedposts in the midst of restoration. And concealed under a drop cloth in the back was a
small boat Marc had built. Also in the shop were the signs of secondary interests so common to Ashevilleans: a vinyl record of Jesse Colin Young from the 1970s, an old ceiling tile and an antique sidewalk brick, a hard cover book and a laptop vied for space on his desk. You could feel the contentment and dedication to craft emanating from this space.
We left the door with Marc and when he brought it back to us at the week’s end we were not at all surprised at the quality of his work. The door probably hasn’t looked this good for 50 years. The new wood is perfectly matched to the old and the hinge is strong and much better aligned then it had been. It was so good that James and I are sorry we don’t have anything else needing repair!
(As a side note, this morning our local newspaper, The Citizen-Times, had a profile of Max Woody, a true Mountain Man who has been making chairs for more than 60 years. It’s worth reading if you are interested in interesting people. You can find it here.)
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