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Local furniture maker doesn't cut corners

March 12, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

Richard "R.M." Garvin isn't on the friendliest of terms with plywood.

A furniture maker, Garvin's Sharpsburg Pike home is filled with handmade furniture, nearly all of which is for sale. But nary a piece of plywood is to be found - which isn't always the case with some other furniture billed as being authentic reproductions of antique pieces.

"They can't be true copies if they have plywood backs and plywood drawer bottoms," Garvin, 84, said.

His pieces consist of solid wood - including the backs and drawer bottoms. He makes chests of drawers, tables, desks, beds, chairs, corner cabinets, highboys and other pieces, using a variety of wood types.

He also puts a full bonnet on top of his highboys.

And although there's no plywood, there is pride.

"When you're building chairs, that separates the cabinetmakers from the boys," he said, adding that making chairs is not an easy task.

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Often he crafts a piece of furniture based on a photograph brought in by a customer. He has delivered furniture throughout the region and to Florida, and has shipped his work to California.

A physician in South Carolina seems especially fond of Garvin's work. "That doctor has darn near everything in his house from me," Garvin said.

Word-of-mouth is his main form of advertising - although he does have a sign and a small decorative table in a display case on his front lawn.

Brass is his favored type of hardware, and any locks on the furniture are not just for decoration - the keys are proof of that. He uses dovetail joints and antique glass in cabinets, while each drawer is custom fit.

"Everything in this house is for sale but that," he said one recent morning, pointing to a side serving table underneath a front window. "That's the first thing I made."

A wallpaper-hanger by trade, Garvin started making furniture in the 1950s. He began by repairing antiques, then found himself building an entire cupboard around a single door brought in by a customer.

Decades ago, he built a workshop behind his house and at one point employed six full-time and two part-time workers.

In 1983, when his wife died, he "let them all go," he said.

"Everything I do now is what I do," he said, relying on no employees or helpers.

He calls his furniture-making a hobby, but it's a far cry from working crosswords or piecing together puzzles.

Making a corner cupboard would take a week of working eight-hour days, but Garvin said his semi-retirement means he only works about two to six hours a day.

A couple of weeks ago he finished two Queen Anne chairs for a woman who had Garvin make her six chairs in the 1980s.

On this particular morning he was awaiting two orders, and said he has no plans to cease his hobby.

"I hope I can go two days before they bury me," he said, without conveying whether the comment was made in jest or not. "I'll do it as long as I can get around."

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