Creating new furniture with the look of tradition


As a furniture-maker, Tim Eastman started out small. Very small. "My first piece of . . . well, whatever was a dovetailed wooden box I made in camp when I was 12 years old. It was pretty much like that one over there," he says pointing to a small plain wooden box with triangular dovetails notched along each side. "Then after that I didn't do anything. I wasn't big in shop in school."

He pauses to think for a moment then adds helpfully, "I doodled in the margins. I guess that was the extent of my artistic endeavor."

His shop teachers, not to mention those camp counselors, would be stunned to see what he's working on now.

Across the room from that simple box is an tassel-back Philadelphia Chippendale side chair with ornate hand carving running across the back and down all four legs, a perfect reproduction of a museum-quality piece.

Tim Eastman makes reproductions of things that are beautiful, of pieces of furniture that only museums and wealthy collectors can now afford to buy.

His home, which he shares with his wife Cheryl ("She does the books and has been a big help in all of this," he says) is filled with such things: a Shaker table and chairs, a Queen Anne lowboy, a Philadelphia pie-crust tea table. He pulls out a thick portfolio filled with pictures of even more pieces, each carefully handmade. "I'm not competing with the lower-price, lower-quality reproductions made by big furniture companies," he says.

Mr. Eastman, who grew up in North Baltimore, trained for over a year at the North Bennett Street School in Boston, a school that stresses craftsmanship of traditional designs. After that he worked for a year with Walter Raynes, a master furniture restorer, before going out on his own to make reproduction furniture.

"It's good to work on old furniture because it refreshes your memory about how things should be made," he adds.

The telephone number of Eastman Woodworking is 377-7640.

Escape to south of France

You're allowed sometimes to escape, to yell "Enough!" at the cold weather, the desk full of work, the television, the world, and stomp off into a corner with a book.

And just now two books have popped up that would be very fine for taking along with you -- "Sara Midda's South of France: A Sketchbook" (Workman Publishing, hardcover, $17.95) and "French Country Living: A Year in Gascony" (Bulfinch Press, hardcover, $29.95), by Deborah Roberts and Victoire de Montal. Although they're very different sorts of books, when read together they complement each other perfectly. You are left at the end totally suffused with the warmth and beauty of southern France.

Sara Midda is an English watercolor artist who wrote and illustrated "In and Out of the Garden," a charming collection of miniature watercolors interwoven with humorous little aphorisms in delicate calligraphy that was a best seller nine years ago. This new book is more of the same, eight years' worth of sketches and watercolors of people, houses, flowers, signs and other objects that all convey the mystique of the region.

This is not a book of stories but of word-pictures and moods, conveyed in captions for drawings and in whimsical lists. For each month of the year there is a pagelong list of notes that combine historical trivia with memories and observations of the natural world. For February, she writes, "Muscari, grape hyacinth, is in flower and growing wild."

"French Country Living" is written almost as a diary. Each month the authors describe the weather and the activity around the farm, the garden and the kitchen. And again, as in Ms. Midda's book, February sounds much more appealing there than here: ". . . one senses the approach of spring. By the end of the month, the signs are clear; cones show in pine trees, dusty mustard-coloured catkins adorn the hazels, and yellow forsythias are in full flower around the farms."

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