Archive for Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Heirlooms in the making

March 1, 2000

Paul Pestock is not just making furniture.

He's making heirlooms.

"Most people are content to have manufactured furniture they really don't need for it to last from generation to generation," Pestock said. "On the other hand, you have people who want to be able to have their grandkids fight over that table or cabinet."

Chances are, the four children of Paul and Debby Pestock won't ever have to fight over furniture, for their house is full of heirlooms in the making.

Pestock said his advent into woodworking began about 12 years ago when he started working the evening nursing shift in the emergency room of the Veterans Administration hospital in Leavenworth.

"I sat around the house all day and it was driving me crazy," he said, "So I started making picture frames for Debby. Then we started looking through magazines and seeing things we wanted to make for our house. And so I started accumulating tools and making stuff."

Pestock, who taught himself the art of furniture making, says the principle is simple.

"Everything's a box," he said.

"Except for a chair."

And except for chairs, one just elaborates on the box, he says.

He says his lack of formal training didn't hurt.

"The funny thing about formal training is that it tells you what you can't do," Pestock said. "I would just always try to do things that I didn't know I couldn't do."

For one, his knowledge now includes names of exotic woods that most people have never heard of. For inspiration, one of his favorites place to go is Paxton's, a lumber company, in Kansas City, Mo.

"There are times when you have a creative dry spot," Pestock said. "You go over to Paxton's and you look at this beautiful wood and you start thinking of things to make."

It is the wood, he says, that creates the design.

In his basement workshop, morning sunshine glows on a burled slice of wood that Pestock said will be the top of a coffee table for one of his customers.

"I saw this wood at Paxton's," he said. "I called her up and said you've got to go over there and see that wood it's really something."


That's how it goes so much of the time, he said.

"You have to be able to visualize to look at the wood and be inspired by the wood and then build something that's worthy of the wood," Pestock said.

He talks of pernambuco, an expensive wood sold by the pound rather than by board feet. Then there's coccobolo, a wood that most people develop an allergy to when they work with it. He calls ziracote "a miserable wood to work with." This one puts out a black, talcum powder abrasive dust when you work with it, he said. But he uses it as a substitute for ebony. Another substitute for ebony is wenge, he said, which is more pleasant to work with than ziracote.

And he mentions the Brazilian rosewood, which is now on the endangered species list.

"If I were to make a piece of furniture out of it, I would have to provide documentation that I bought the wood before it was placed on the endangered species list," Pestock said.

It is his perfectionist attitude and attention to detail that make his furniture unique.

Anything less would just not be acceptable to him.

Pestock's wife, Debby, said, "I think if there's one fault that Paul has that we both have is that we're perfectionists. Everything has to fit just right. He'll finish a piece and he'll say, 'yeah it looks pretty but.'"

So it's partly the diversity of detail that makes Pestock's furniture unique.

"It may be big things, it may be little things," he said. "It may be things that maybe a year from now you notice."

For instance, he said, pointing to knobs on a tall sewing cabinet he made for Debby. They are not held on with screws.

"It actually is a dowel that comes through and you cut a little slice in it and then drive in a little wedge and then you finish it off with a chisel."

In the master bedroom of their home is a red oak cabinet with 16 panels in the doors.

Again, one notes the diversity of detail.

"All these panels are resawn oak," Pestock said. "When you cut them off you number them and you place them in the order they came off the board so when you look at it you have the grain continue."

Details like that aren't readily noticeable, he said.

"I mean, you look at a piece and you know you like it. There's something about it that's more symmetrical and pleasing and then maybe later if you start looking close, you think, oh wow, that grain moves on through each panel."

The style of this cabinet is almost an arts and crafts, or mission style, Pestock said. "It's not pure, it's a little bit of a mix."

And it might be said that real honest-to-goodness pieces of furniture made one at a time by highly skilled craftsman such as Pestock are indeed heirlooms in the making.

"Custom furniture started as a trendy thing," Pestock said. "But for the last 25 to 30 years it's been on the increase, and now people are realizing that a high-quality, well-built, well-designed piece of furniture will be a valuable thing.

"People are starting to feel like custom furniture will be the antiques of the future."

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