It's late afternoon, but Page Nelson and his partner, Jim Adajian, are just now getting around to eating their lunch: pasta salads in plastic carryout containers.
And even now, before they've had a chance to take the first bite, one telephone rings and then another and they both pop up and start pacing the floor, talking on separate portable phones.
Finally Page Nelson sits back down at a work bench and nods toward a well-worn wooden stool: "Pull up a chair. We've got lots of them."
They not only have lots of chairs here at Adajian and Nelson, but lots of tables, chests of drawers, armoires, sideboards -- just about anything that you can think of that's old, made out of wood and in trouble.
Adajian and Nelson, along with their staff of five, repair and refinish (and sometimes build) fine furniture.
In the more than a dozen years they've been here along the Jones Falls Valley in Woodberry, they've developed a following among people who cherish fine furniture. Even museums call them when something wooden in their collections needs a repair.
The two floors of this old mill building are filled with old clocks getting a new finish, an armoire damaged in a fire, a Victorian oak chair being clamped and glued. And the air is sharp with the tang of varnish and lacquer.
"We deal in beauty and permanence," Page Nelson says after he gets back to the table.
"And that's the nice part about this work. We know that what we do is going to be around for another 50 years and maybe longer. And that's a nice feeling because a lot of people do things that last a month, a week, a year, and then it's gone."
In their brochure, the list of what they do (or can have done through their sources) is long: hand-rubbed French polishing, varnishing, lacquering, japanning, painting, glazing, gilding, cleaning and perfecting existing finishes, veneering, inlaying, turning, carving, furniture design and building, informal appraisal, rushing, caning, lock repairing, brass polishing and lacquering.
And it ends with the phrase "making silk purses out of sows' ears."
Page Nelson started refinishing furniture as a hobby which then grew to a part-time business.
"I was doing this sort of work to amuse myself and then I started charging a little bit of money because once you do a good job, you get another job. And if you do that job well, you get another job."
About this time, the mid '70s, he decided he was bored with work in a brokerage firm. "I woke up one morning and realized the kids were paid for, they were out of college and married, so what the devil did I need to make a lot of money for, so why not try this thing on a full-time basis, and I did. And it worked."
He started by working out of his home. "Then the fire department found me. A fireman came by one day and said, 'You're violating an ordinance, Mr. Nelson.' And I said, 'No, five ordinances, two fire ordinances and three zoning ordinances.' I said, 'How long can you keep that report on your desk without getting in trouble?' He said two weeks. I said, 'I'll be gone in two weeks.' And I was right here at the end of that two weeks."
Mr. Adajian came to work for him a couple of years later. He had originally come to Baltimore to attend the Maryland Institute, College of Art. After finishing graduate school there, he was working at a studio that did ornamental plaster work.
"I started to get disgruntled climbing ladders and that sort of thing," he says. "I knew Page was here doing this kind of work and I knocked on his door and he hired me. Three years later, he made me a partner.
"I"ve always been interested in building things and working with wood and solving problems -- and that's what we do more of than anything here. We solve structural problems. We solve visual problems in everything that's associated with furniture."
"And when the medium in which you're solving your problem is beautiful and durable and useful," Mr. Nelson adds, "it's a very wholesome business."
Adajian and Nelson is located at 3302 Clipper Mill Road. The telephone number is 467-4407.