Woodworker moves business to Savage Mill Computer designs crafted by hand

October 29, 1993|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Staff Writer

For 10 years, Jerome Louison built his woodworking business in the basement of his Highland home, handcrafting everything from golf clubs to bedroom sets.

"It's all come along," Mr. Louison said. "I don't know if it's come along like I planned, but it's come along nicely."

So nicely, in fact, that two months ago he moved his business, Louison Woodworks, into the Savage Mill.

"It's like living a dream," he said.

Mr. Louison is one of a growing number of artisans who have moved into the old mill since renovations that began in April 1986 were completed almost a year ago.

The mill is about 85 percent leased. In recent months, it has attracted as tenants a photographer, who captured Virginia's Luray Caverns on film without a flash, and a maker of hand-knit sweaters whose most noted customer was actor-comedian Bill Cosby.

"We're not looking for The Gap or retailers you find at the mall," said Beverly Schwink, the manager. "We're looking for the unusual, different."

People like Mr. Louison, fit that description, she said. "He's a specialty retailer. He creates his product. Most of the people here create their product."

Mr. Louison custom-builds all his wares by hand, mostly from ideas he comes up with himself.

"We're romantics with wood," he said of himself and those who treat furniture-making as an art and not just as a business.

Using a computer at his home, Mr. Louison designs the furniture. His workday begins with computer design work at 7 a.m. He then travels to the mill, where he opens the shop at about 10 a.m., five days a week.

He uses only the finest domestic woods, such as cherry, walnut and ash. He looks at the pieces of wood for detail that would make the furniture unique. Such detail might include a wavy grain, or a grain that looks like turkey feathers.

"I'm in it for the business, but I'm in it for the woodworking, too," said Mr. Louison, a 48-year-old husband, father of five and grandfather of eight.

He hand-carves joints for his furniture and often uses antique chisels, scrapers and saws. "I believe there is a spirit that goes along with a lot of the old tools," he said.

He is the business' only full-time worker, but has two apprentices who work part time, while studying at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. One of them is Mr. Louison's 22-year-old son-in-law, Mark Fauntlery, who started working with him six years ago.

"I just wanted to help him," Mr. Fauntlery said. "I really didn't like antiques myself."

But working with Mr. Louison has helped him appreciate the art, he said.

Mr. Louison's love for woodwork began in his home state of Idaho 25 years ago. Most of his family relatives are home builders, and Mr. Louison decided instead to focus on furniture.

Full bedroom sets start at about $7,000 and take about a month to build.

Some of his work is on display at the Oakland Mills High School, where he made 10 trophy cases for the athletic teams.

"We had trophies all over the school and no trophy cases," said Principal David Bruzga. "[Mr. Louison] had a real nice product.

"Based on comparing what's available commercially and what he can do, there's no comparison in terms of quality," Mr. Bruzga said. "The craftsmanship is excellent."

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