Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Staniforth house and the innerconnections between time and family in a small southern town

In this picture are three of the things I have built of which I am most proud, but possibly that isn't where this story should begin.  Part of the reason why I have chosen to remain in my hometown of Natchez, Mississippi is that I can't shake my sense of place.  Natchez is my home.  It is in my bones.  As a teenager it always fascinated me, as it does to this day, that I could walk in any building downtown and even homes throughout the region and know that my parents have been there before me and their parents before them for several generations..It makes me feel like a part of the fabric of the place where I live.  This is where the Staniforth House comes in.  While I was growing up I admired the brick house on Rankin street that was run down and uninhabited.  Some friends and I even went in one time to look around since the door was wide open, but it wasn't until years later that my mother would tell me that one of my ancestors had built that house.  Having an interest in history and architecture, that piqued my interest in it but not enough to really pay much more attention to it until I received a call from a local contractor asking me if I would be interested in building kitchen cabinets.  "Kitchen cabinets aren't really my thing" I told him but after he told me where they would go I got more interested.  You see, he was doing the restoration work on that same house, the house I had always been interested in that Mama told me some ancestor had built.  After meeting the contractor there, walking through the house and seeing all that the new owners were doing, there was no question that I wanted to be a part of the project even though " kitchen cabinets aren't really my thing".  I accepted the job and got to building the cabinets but while I was in that process, I also got to know the new owners and we often talked about what they were doing.  While helping with the paint, one of them uncovered the original paint job in the dining room which consisted of multicolored boxes painted to look like paneled wallpaper.  when they found that, they had to recreate it so they hired a local painter to recreate the original colors which are also shown in the picture above. Since their dining room was being set apart from the rest of the house, they decided they needed a special dining table to go with it so we started talking about designs for period reproduction of a three part table for the room.  It was about that time that the electrician had to go under the house to do some electrical work and brought out from under the house several furniture parts, one of which was an 1830's table leg.  When I saw that, it became clear to me what the legs should look like on their new table so I copied it twelve times to produce the table that is in that room today.  While still in the process of building their table, they began talking about wanting a pair of bookcases, so I did some research and made some drawings to show them and came up with a design for a pair of cherry bookcases with glass doors that I installed in a sitting room adjoining the dining room.  Once the dining table was installed, they started looking for chandeliers and were having trouble finding one they really liked but were enamored of a fixture hanging on the back porch of a local mansion.  When they showed me the picture, I imediately knew where the fixture was hanging and told them I had always admired it and I could build it for them if they wanted.  Well, that began my foray into lignting.  It really was a fun project.  It is a simple fixture that replicates a billiards gasolier.  It has only four arms and is painted steel where the original is cast bronze, but the one I built has brass ornaments very similar to the original and is complete with etched glass globes. 

This was without a doubt a very fulfilling project for me for a number of reason.  I had the opportunity to build some beautiful furniture and even get into iron work, but once again it fascinates me how connected we are in this little town.  You see, Thomas Staniforth, my ancestor who built that house didn't just live there.  he litterally built it.  He was a contractor and he used his home as his showplace for potential customers to see what all he could do.  Each room is different with different millwork and different paint schemes.  I relate so well to this because I do the same thing 170 years later.  I don't build houses, but I do build furniture and I do use my home as my showroom because it is filled with furniture I have built.  It was William Faulkner who said "The past isn't dead.  It isn't even past."

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