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March 26, 2020

Faces of Fauquier: Making furniture feeds his creativity

Photos/Don Del Rosso
Barry Hamilton designed and built this highboy dresser.
Mr. Hamilton’s Bombay dresser.
When Liz and I would come back to the farm, we always came to the top of this mountain and we always admired the view. And we said someday we would build a home here, and we did.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The submarine commander’s wife wanted to help her husband pass downtime during 64-day patrols in the Western Pacific.

So for Christmas in 1969, Liz Hamilton gave him a wood model to assemble of Capt. James Cook’s ship HMS Endeavour — the three-mast voyager that the 18th-century British explorer sailed when he discovered Australia and New Zealand.

“It took me three or four patrols” to complete the 30-inch-tall model, recalled Robert Barry Hamilton, a retired U.S. Navy captain who along with his wife lives on a 450-acre farm west of Warrenton.

Mr. Hamilton — known to most as Barry — decided the model should be properly displayed.

Not sure how to proceed, he spoke with a neighbor, who offered simple advice.

The Hamiltons lived in Hawaii at the time.

“ ‘Just go get a saw’,” Mr. Hamilton, 87, said his friend suggested. “I got a saw and one thing led to another. I made this cabinet to put my ship model in. And then I thought, ‘This is kind of fun.’ And I started making other stuff.”

In the last 50 years, he has produced more than 30 pieces — cabinets, chairs, dressers, tables and bookshelves.

He keeps about 20 works in the couple’s Fauquier home and has given a few to his daughters and friends.

Mr. Hamilton, who almost without exception uses walnut and cherry from the farm, doesn’t sell his pieces.

“I do it for my own pleasure,” he said. “It’s the satisfaction of producing something that is useful that I like. It’s creative. You start, in some cases, with a tree. You turn it into boards. You dry it. And then you make furniture out of it.”

Sometimes period furniture influences his work, sometimes not, said Mr. Hamilton, who designs most of his pieces.

“The dining room chairs are really the Philadelphia school Queen Anne chairs. The ‘highboy’ (dresser) with the bonnet top — that’s just kind of the way they made them” during the Early American period, from about 1640 to 1700.

Born in Pennsylvania, Mr. Hamilton grew up on the Fauquier farm that his family bought in 1879.

Milking about 100 cows, his father operated a dairy and his mother ran a horse business.

The third of four children, Mr. Hamilton wanted to join his older brother at Yale University.

But in his junior year of high school, his father died of a heart attack and money became tight.

As an alternative to Yale, a cousin who served as secretary of the U.S. Naval Academy’s academic department suggested that Mr. Hamilton consider the Annapolis college.

He ultimately got an appointment and attended the academy.

“But it really wasn’t one of those things I always wanted to do,” Mr. Hamilton admitted. “Money aside, I probably would have gone to Yale, and it would have been a mistake. You don’t know about the road not taken.”

He added: “It turned out, after all these years, that it was a very, very good decision" to attend the Naval Academy and become a commissioned officer. “We traveled. We had some years in Hawaii, for instance, that I wouldn’t have given up for anything.”

During his 24-year military career, Mr. Hamilton served on five submarines, commanding the Nathan Hale from 1969 to 1972. He retired about seven years later.

For the next 15 years, Mr. Hamilton worked in Houston for Mars Inc. as a plant manager and manufacturing vice president. In 1996, the couple moved into their new home at the family farm.

• Age
87

• Home 
Near Warrenton

• Work
Retired manufacturing vice president, Mars Inc., 1979-94; retired captain, U.S. Navy, 1955-79.

• Family
Wife, Liz; three daughters, three grandchildren; one great-grandchild.

• Education
Bachelor’s degree, engineering, U.S. Naval Academy, 1955; Kent School, Kent, Conn., 1951.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
Thirty-nine years.

• Why do you live here? 
When I retired, I wanted to come back to where my roots were. When Liz and I would come back to the farm, we always came to the top of this mountain and we always admired the view. And we said someday we would build a home here, and we did.

• How do you describe this county? 
Low-keyed, friendly, cooperative.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
I think I’d leave it alone and hope for no more development. Being close to Washington, I like the cultural advantages of a big city. There are movie theaters in Gainesville and Fairfax. I’d rather drive there than have them here.

• What do you do for fun? 
Woodworking is my favorite hobby. I play a little golf. I do a little clay pigeon shooting.

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
Right here. Looking out at the mountains, the land gets into your blood, at least into mine. It’s very peaceful, very quiet.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years? 
It will grow, but my hope is all the open land will remain open. I think the urban areas, like Warrenton, are going to grow. You can see the developers love to come out here. It’s a shame — more traffic, more of everything I don’t like.

• Favorite TV show?
PBS NewsHour

• Favorite movie? 
“Das Boot”

• Favorite book?
“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville.

• Favorite vacation spot? 
Our summer house in West Falmouth (Mass.)

• Favorite food? 
Fresh swordfish cooked by my wife. She broils it with a lemon-butter sauce.

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom? 
My father. I was about 6 years old, and I don’t know how the subject came up. But he took me aside and advised me not to smoke. He said it was a bad habit and wasn’t good for you and was expensive. I took that to heart, and I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life.

In those days, we didn’t know as much about the ill-effects of smoking as we do now.

• Who’s your hero and why?
Winston Churchill. I think he was one of the great leaders of this modern age, the way he got the English through their darkest hours — World War II — through his speeches. Don’t worry, he said: “We’ll fight them on the beaches, we’ll fight them in the fields . . . .” I don’t know we’ve had anybody quite like that. Of course, we had (President Dwight D.) Eisenhower and other World War II leaders who faced what he was facing.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery? 
I’d invest in common stock. Bad thing to say today (because of the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on financial markets). But this, too, will pass. The stock market’s been good to me.

Have a suggestion?
Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? Email Don Del Rosso at Don@FauquierNow.com or Lou Emerson at LKE@fauquiernow.com
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Linda Ward · March 26, 2020 at 5:57 pm
Beautiful! Your family is very fortunate to have a master craftsman in residence.
badelectronics · March 26, 2020 at 5:24 pm
Beautiful work sir!
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