Craftsman’s touch: Retired professor creates period furniture – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Tom Buckelew’s 1905 Georgian Revival-style home doubles as a workshop and personal museum. Inside, the 73-year-old cabinetmaker has crafted over 100 original reproductions of 18th- and 19th-century furniture.
When the retired biology professor moved into his nine-bedroom, 4,000-square-foot house in Uniontown, he puzzled over its vast open spaces. He and his wife had always possessed a passion for antique furniture, but filling the large home with it would be wildly expensive.
“Our taste in antiques was far greater than our pocketbooks,” Mr. Buckelew said, laughing.
Eventually he decided that if he wanted quality furniture, he would have to create it himself.
Beeson Hill Antiques, based out of his home, offers “period furniture,” a collection of pieces designed to mimic the Early American antiques they loved. The term usually refers to furniture and other items made before 1820. Mr. Buckelew’s appetite for it began in the early 1970s, when he created one of the first pieces — a Pennsylvania Dutch wardrobe.
A schrank, as it was called in Germany, could easily span an entire wall. Originally intended for prospective brides to store their dowry items, antique versions of these large cabinets can cost up to $30,000 at auction, according to Mr. Buckelew.
“I realized I would only ever own one if I made it,” he said. “They’re definitely a showcase piece.”
Forty years ago, Mr. Buckelew struck up a deal with a former student at California University of Pennsylvania: He would help clear trees from a patch of land in exchange for dry wood he could use. Three years later, the self-taught woodworker began work on the 7-foot-tall wardrobe.
Now the massive piece he made from cherry rests along the wall of a sitting room near the front of the house, a conversation starter even in a home bursting at the seams with impressive furniture ranging in price from “the high hundreds to the low thousands.”
“The furniture lives long after the people,” Mr. Buckelew said. “It’s rewarding when I make something because I know it will outlast me.”
Through the formal dining room and down a set of creaky, wooden stairs, Mr. Buckelew’s workshop is packed with piles of antique furniture covered in a thick sheet of dust. “Death row,” as he calls it, includes chests, dressers and chairs. These pieces may see new life, though. Mr. Buckelew is also in the business of reviving antiques.
On a snowy afternoon, Mr. Buckelew carved dovetails into a drawer for his most recent project, a William and Mary-style chest. Based on furniture from the 1680s, the style is known colloquially as “pilgrim furniture,” he said.
Mr. Buckelew buys antiques that can’t be restored for low prices — ranging from $500 into the low thousands — and dismantles them. The pieces are sometimes recycled into his own furniture.
As he whittled away on a drawer, a small chunk of wood fell to the floor. There were hundreds of similar bits of wood next to him. Some were cut intentionally. Others were accidents.
“You have to make your mark and have the guts to cut ‘em,” he said.
Courtney Linder: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1707. Twitter: @LinderPG.
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