Faces of Fauquier: He turns wood scraps into furniture
Photo/Don Del Rosso
“When you plane it down and finish it and stuff, you kind of bring wood alive a little bit,” George Downs said of making furniture.
George Downs can produce an Adirondack chair in 90 minutes.
I drove from here to Alaska with my youngest son on a camping trip. And, there’s not one of the towns I saw from here to Alaska that has everything Warrenton has.
The retired U.S. Postal Service worker knew how to swing a hammer and hang a door.
But George Downs Jr. of Warrenton never thought he would employ his carpentry skills to churn out hundreds of Adirondack chairs.
“My father was in Nags Head (N.C.) 40, 45 years ago,” Mr. Downs recalled in his tool-crammed, white-washed backyard workshop. “There was this contest — the most comfortable Adirondack chair on the east coast, or something like that. He bought the award winner.”
His father took apart the chair at his Northern Virginia home to create a template.
“So we started to make the chairs.”
In the mid 1980s, the son decided to test the local market for Adirondacks. The extra income would help pay the carpenter that Mr. Downs hired to make the family’s historic High Street home more habitable.
“I made five chairs and took them to the Warrenton Festival,” he said. “I had a booth for 10 bucks. I just sat in one of the chairs. Got 300 orders. I was making them all summer.”
Laughing, he added: “Ever since then, I’ve been making those stupid chairs.”
Mr. Downs, 69, has no idea how many he since has produced.
But, “most of them you see in Warrenton that have a certain look to them, I probably made them.”
At first, it took him about four hours to cut and assemble a single chair.
“Now I can do it in 90 minutes,” Mr. Downs said. “It’s a very simple chair. It’s just so easy. You don’t even have to think. I can do them in my sleep.”
In the early years, he used pine and charged $25 per chair. Today, the Cyprus chairs sell for $125 apiece — a price unmatched for hand-made furniture, he insisted.
“Online, they go for $250,” he said.
He likes Cyprus because “it’s thicker and doesn’t rot,” explained Mr. Downs, a Queens, N.Y.-native whose family moved to Northern Virginia in 1963, after his father got a job with the U.S. Printing Office.
“It’s denser; it’s heavier. If there’s a storm coming up, the chair doesn’t tend to blow over, crack and break.
“I make a chair — and if you don’t do anything — it’ll change to a pretty gray color.”
While he has on order four or five Adirondack chairs at a time, Mr. Downs also produces rustic 18-inch tall “spalted” maple benches that can double as tables.
“This is my hot item now,” he said of the benches. “This is what you can sell all year round. The Adirondacks, in the spring and summer hit pretty hard.”
Depending on the outlet, the retail price for the tables can top $500, Mr. Downs said.
Besides chairs and tables, he makes the occasional cutting board. He tries to keep the work simple.
“Anybody who wants like a desk with a lot of draws in it, that’s out of my league,” said Mr. Downs, who with his wife Rosemary moved from Fairfax County to Warrenton in 1985 for a quieter, less-hectic place to raise their family. “I’m not a finished carpenter type.”
In his spare time, he also serves his Lord. Using materials produced by minister Lon Solomon, he conducts weekly nondenominational Christian services at two assisted living centers and a seniors’ apartment complex in Fauquier.
“The saddest thing a person can see is if they go into a nursing home and they see somebody sitting in a chair, staring out the window with a glaze,” said Mr. Downs, who lends the Solomon CDs and literature to those who request them.
Many of the residents “just can’t wait to listen to the sermon series,” he added.
Retired U.S. Postal Service employee, 1982-2014.
• Military service
U.S. Navy, 1969-1973.
• Why do you do you make furniture?
I thought I could create something out of wood that was not going to be used for anything — scraps at a sawmill. When you plane it down and finish it and stuff, you kind of bring wood alive a little bit, make something beautiful out of it, functional.
I do it for all the reasons: It’s fun, creative, make something for the family, sell a little of bit it so I can pay for my stains — all that type of stuff.
Wife Rosemary; three sons and eight grandchildren.
Robert E. Lee High School, 1967.
• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
• Why do you live here?
I wanted to get out of the big city. I wanted to raise my kids in an atmosphere of community. Springfield was getting to be a zoo.
I drove from here to Alaska with my youngest son on a camping trip. And, there’s not one of the towns I saw from here to Alaska that has everything Warrenton has. It’s got your town atmosphere, your community atmosphere. It’s hard to find a place like Warrenton.
• How do you describe this county?
It has the beauty of Virginia personified. It’s got the mountains, the hills. It’s got the greenery. Fauquier has a little bit of everything for everybody.
• What would you change about Fauquier?
To me a great thing would be to have a community worship center, where all the churches could come together as one body of Christ — not to say that every church would be abandoned, but to say that they could come together once a week just to worship together.
• What do you do for fun?
I read a lot, hang out with the family, spending time together.
• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
My front porch.
• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
I don’t think it’s going to change much. When I first moved here, they didn’t have a Giant, a Walmart — all that stuff. But I don’t feel a big change. If it’s done anything, it’s made it more convenient for me to get a screw, rather than going to Manassas.
There are so many checks and balances in Fauquier, it’s not going to change that much.
• Favorite book?
“Spurgeon’s Sermons,” by C.H. Spurgeon.
• Favorite vacation spot?
Outer Banks, N.C.
• Favorite food?
A good steak.
• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
I don’t think that there’s any one person who gave me the best advice I’ve ever had. My parents were an example of hard work and commitment to marriage and family.
Their example was how they lived out what they believed in. They actually walked it out. It wasn’t a matter of do as I say, not as I do. It was just the opposite.
There is an anonymous quote I like: “If you feed your faith, you will starve your anxieties.”
• Who’s your hero and why?
I don’t have a hero. The only person I could look up to is Jesus Christ. And, you can have a relationship with him.
• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery?
I would probably buy something for myself that I enjoy — maybe a stereo system.
I would think wholeheartedly about building a worship center in Fauquier County, where all the churches could come together as a body of Christ.
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Mark House · May 22, 2019 at 4:54 pm
Thank you for your stewardship in the community, and George you make a pretty tables too.
Savefauquiercounty2019 · May 21, 2019 at 4:56 pm
What a nice story. Lovely furniture.
God Bless Warrenton!!!
Thank you for your service. And it was during Vietnam!!
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