Close Encounters with Woodworking

Several years ago now, when Mr Litlove was first getting serious about his furniture making, I remember he was sitting propped up against the pillows one night, leafing through a woodworking magazine. As I got into bed, I noticed the full page advert on the back cover which had the caption ‘You Can’t Rock This Joint!’

‘Good grief,’ I said. ‘I think I’ve just aged thirty years.’

All I needed was a cup of cocoa and my knitting to complete the picture. And so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that these first couple of months of Mr Litlove pursing his furniture making interests have left me with the oddest sensation of being retired. We have left the rat race and all its concerns far behind us without yet achieving the state of a cottage industry. Mr Litlove is now spending his days engaged in physical activity, and he’s been delighted to be able to reinstigate his favourite meal – teatime – into an already packed programme of refreshments. So he has been in and out of his workshop and I have been essentially a short order chef, keeping him fuelled. It’s pretty much full-time work.

The first couple of weeks Mr Litlove dedicated to primping up the garage. He insulated the walls, hung up over the doors the old floor to ceiling curtains that not only lived in our sitting room for years but were donated to us by my parents, and after that, he turned his attention to the lighting. With the result that when I stand at the kitchen window after dusk, looking down the garden, I think I’m about to have a close encounter of the third kind.

Then he bought a very large, shiny green box which is apparently an air filter and is now attached high up on the garage ceiling. He wears the remote control for it on a cord around his neck, and it looks for all the world like a panic button. I’m not quite sure what new roles we’re playing; Darby and Joan, on the one hand, Wallace and Gromit on the other.

But since then, furniture has been made. Mr Litlove finds himself into chairs at the moment, and Sheraton chairs in particular. Thomas Sheraton is an interesting character, the last of the great English designers and cabinet makers who flourished in the eighteenth century. He followed on the end of an illustrious line after Chippendale (hard to get the image out of one’s head of polished pecs and too much hairspray, but try), Heppelwhite and Robert Adam. Unlike his predecessors, however, fame and fortune did not smile upon him. He was born poor and only ever scraped a living from his furniture, even forced later in life to make the sort of popular French Empire style pieces (frilly, fussy) that he disliked. In our day, furniture makers have come to view Sheraton as the greatest of that pack of stylists, the most elegant of line and proportion, but during his lifetime his shyness and sensitivity, his introspection, made him a bad spokesperson and salesman for his craft. After his death in 1806, fashions changed, and the sort of furniture he loved has only relatively recently been appreciated again.

IMG_20151113_192538 This is the first Sheraton chair Mr Litlove made, which is waiting for its upholstered seat. We thought about striking a deal with one of the local upholsterers but now Mr Litlove has decided instead to do an upholstery course in the new year. I am very pleased about this as I am working hard in what I hope is a surreptitious way towards the idea of the chaise longue, which is a piece of furniture I love. I could put up with a chaise longue around the house, if I had to.

IMG_20151120_145832Then, interested in a variation, Mr Litlove embarked on the other one, which as you can see is still a work in progress. He wanted to try a lighter wood, and to do something different from the carving. So he has given the chair darker wood booties (at the bottom of the front legs) and pin stripes on the back splats. The first chair he finished with glossy shellac, but I’m not sure what he intends to do with this one.

IMG_20151120_145740He’s been doing really well, considering that he’s worked in offices and factories for the rest of his career, always surrounded by lots of other people. I thought it would take him a while to adapt, but it’s been swift so far. Occasionally he wobbles, when something reminds him of the old capitalist regime and makes him feel he should be paying serious attention to money (we have plenty to live on; he needn’t worry). Back in summer, he came across an essay on the web that affected him. It was a piece about Jung’s ideas of personal development. Jung said that the first half of our lives we spend fighting for status on the world’s terms. We do what we can to succeed in the public sphere, and use whichever talents we possess that are culturally validated. In the second half of our lives, though, the focus shifts. Now it’s about our unexplored potential. It’s about developing ourselves on our own terms, following the dreams that have personal significance. And you never know how that’s going to turn out. We all want to be Chippendales, but we may end up as Sheratons. The Jung essay was startling as I think we both related very strongly to it, having worked hard on our careers, and now finding ourselves following paths that are much trickier in some ways, but more rewarding in others. I love seeing him make beautiful things, and all that matters to me is that he has plenty of time to explore and refine his skills.

32 thoughts on “Close Encounters with Woodworking

  1. This is marvelous and inspirational. I wish I were at the stage of life where I felt comfortable abandoning the fight for status on the world’s terms. As far as I’m concerned it’s mostly a question of money: I would be afraid to try and live on my own terms at the moment because I don’t trust that I’d be able to stay afloat financially. But what a wonderful idea of Jung’s, and how fabulous to see you and Mr. L embracing it so fully. Looking forward to seeing more beautiful pieces in due course!

    • We’re both in our late 40s now, so it’s taken a while! And fortunately the only thing I really want to buy is books, which is a relatively cheap vice (reviewing them is even cheaper). Even so, there are days when we think, crikey, but mostly it is a huge privilege to be able to give it a go.

  2. How wonderful that Mr. Litlove is able to follow his creative heart like this! And I think Jung may be right, too. As for a chaise longue – well, if Mr. Litlove can make you one of those, I think he certainly has a calling for wood!

    • I just have this thing for chaises longues! Ah well, I will work on him… and restrict food if necessary. It is really fortunate that he can take some time now to work on the furniture making – I’m very much hoping he’ll find a way to stick with it!

  3. Oh, those are really lovely. Mr Litlove is very talented. And I think he would do well to practice a bit on chaise longues–you could share a photo here of you reclining and reading (sort of like that final scene in Rear Window where Grace Kelly is sneaking her glamour magazine behind an adventure book looking quite cool and collected)–you would start a trend as then we would all want one and he would be busy well into spring making them!🙂 When my sister quit her job and decided to work from home–using her garage as her studio and work area, my BIL spent a lot of time and effort to primp it as well–see, I guess men have their own style of ‘nesting’ eh?! It sounds as though you have a busy household–glad to hear things are working out well so far–and hopefully you can get in some good reading and writing time between meals and teatimes!

    • Oh Danielle, you are speaking my language when it comes to Rear Window – I know exactly the scene you mean and would LOVE to adopt the Grace Kelly pose!🙂 Ha, I loved your story about your BIL; yes, clearly this is a version of nesting that’s new to me but prevalent at large! How intriguing! As for reading, it is the one thing I am managing to do a bit of lately – though I am woefully behind in my posting…. I am trying to make lunch a bit less of a performance. It is amazing how much time you can waste doing that sort of thing! Actually, the one thing that sticks in my mind that I covet is your rocking chair! Got to see if I can get Mr L to make one of those too…🙂

  4. Wish i was in your neck of the woods; Id commission a 19th/20th c. banker’s chair. Having trouble tracking one down and Mr’s lines are just right.

    • My friend, that is a very useful pointer. We’ve been looking up the banker’s chair and love it. Mr L is very keen to have a go at one. If we figure out how to make it flat pack – we’ll send you one!

      • Make it assemble-able! I can put anything together, even if you write the instructions in Portuguese!

        Think theres a market for that kind of furniture? “Antique” avec assemblage?

        Imagine being able to order handcrafted, amazeballs stuff online, and you just have to slot A into slot A when you get it. Armoires to your door. Genius.

        That would be phenomenal for geeks like me and people without access to pickup trucks or lorries.

    • Thank you! There will most definitely be more show and tell here over the months ahead. Mr Litlove is very shy and restrained when it comes to blowing his own horn, but I am very happy to do it for him!🙂

    • I thought that might be you! I’m completely in agreement – reading chairs are on the menu, and you know I’ll be nagging for a chaise longue. I do love them so.

    • Aw thank you so much! It’s going well for him so far, and I’d thought these early days might be the hardest. Well, it’s life and nothing is straightforward, but I am happy he’s happy.

  5. Has Mr Litlove considered making pretty chairs for tall people? There’s an internet market, as our knees get old.The only chair in my mother’s hospital room was so low that when I sat on it, my knees were higher than my hips, which my chiropracter says is not a good thing.

    • Ah now, this is indeed something we are discussing – Mr L is 6’4″ so he knows about the problems of being too tall for things, and I’m keen on all design that’s ergonomic. So much of what we sit on is an ergonomic disaster one way or another, it’s definitely on our list of things to pay close attention to.

  6. Did you hear that sound? That was my jaw hitting the floor when I saw Mr Litlove’s amazing work! I don’t think there’s any question that he’ll be able to keep you in books.

    My parents had a Victorian chaise longue and they got rid of it! Madness!

    • You are a darling. And I’m so glad you liked them. I do currently have a chaise longue, and it was given to me by the wardrobe mistress of an amateur dramatic society I used to belong to. It’s a story I could tell another day, but I still wince to think about my time in village panto…..

      • Now that’s a story I would dearly love to hear!! I will echo everybody else and say how beautiful those chairs are, and how wonderful that your husband is finally getting to do what he loves. I hope it works out for him!

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