By Lee Noles
MONROE – Working with wood has been a big part of James Handy’s life. It all started as a child when he visited his father’s sawmill in the mountains of North Carolina and continued through his career working in the painting and flooring business.
All those years and all that knowledge Handy gained is being used to his advantage as the retired salesman creates furniture pieces from scratch in a business he calls Character Reclaimed.
“I’m happy with what I got,” said Handy of his post-retirement career. “I can sleep late. I can go in the garage, work a couple of hours on a piece of furniture, then go inside and have a glass of iced tea. It’s my pleasure.”
Woodworking happened almost by chance when Handy and his wife, Maryan, visited an auction several years ago. It was there Handy won furniture that appeared ready for the trash and gave it new life.
“They looked like orphans,” Handy said of the discarded pieces. “Their legs were busted or hinges were missing. I couldn’t help myself. I had to buy them.”
Handy continued to buy furniture at auctions and flea markets and refurbish them in his garage. When the furniture started taking over the living and dining rooms, Maryan gave an ultimatum.
“She told me to get them out of the house,” said Handy, who sold them online.
After several years of refurbishing, Handy decided to create his own when his son, Jason, asked him to look at furniture he wanted to buy for Handy’s granddaughter. When Handy saw it, he felt he could build the same thing in his garage. After finishing, Handy quickly realized he had a small but enjoyable problem. He had eight more grandchildren who would also want something.
“I made one for all of them,” said Handy, who places a Bible verse and an emblem on the furniture. The emblem reflects the interest of the grandchildren with a football or baseball for some, and a bow and arrow or a softball for others.
“It’s something they can remember,” Handy said.
Memories are important for Handy, whose father, Odell, raised him after Handy’s mother passed away when he was 4 years old. Time was different back then in the early 1950s. Instead of large trucks hauling lumber, Handy recalled riding a horse harnessed with timber to be taken to the sawmill.
“It was a big black horse named Fred,” Handy said. “I will always remember that horse.”
Handy started working for his father when he was 9 years old by sweeping the sawdust from the floor. He graduated to loading the logs before moving to the job of taking the cut pieces and putting them into a pile. The life at a sawmill was never for Handy, though, and after college he began working for different home improvement companies. He eventually moved to Union County in 1994 with Maryan, whose passion for contemporary design had a big influence on Handy’s pieces.
The style includes whites and off whites with straight lines and edges; a stark contrast to how Handy grew up.
“I’m from the mountains. I’m a country boy, so I am on the opposite end of the spectrum,” Handy said. “They say opposites attract, so I think our styles have blended well.”
What isn’t attractive to Handy is working by a clock when creating a piece. Handy usually lets the wood sit in his garage for a few weeks before he figures out what to do with it. He then takes another couple of weeks to make it.
“If someone wants to put me on a time limit, I’m not going to do it,” he said.
What Handy does enjoy is creating different types of furniture. He has made a piece out of a 55-gallon barrel and others with wood dating back to the 1800s.
“Not all two pieces of wood are the same,” Handy said. “And that is what I like.”
Want some furniture?
Handy’s pieces are at 47K Marketplace in Monroe. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 704-296-7434.