Written by Amy Shuman, with Photography by John Shuman
A few months ago, I met Doris Kolb at the Country Club Mall. She had worked at the Allegany County Health Department as the child psychologist while I was the county nutritionist and we hadn’t seen each other for a while. In the process of pausing to catch up, Doris told me that she always enjoys the Artful Homes features. I asked her to let me know if she knew anyone who might like to invite me to visit. “My husband, Gene, made most of our furniture and it’s very special. I’d love for you and John to see it!” So started our plans for visiting Doris, to appreciate and enjoy the craftsmanship of her husband, Charles Eugene, who died in 2004. Doris’ wish is that the goodness of Gene’s life might be shared through this article.
Gene drew the plans for and totally crafted one home in LaVale, except for the outside stone, and was instrumental in much of the work in the present place where Doris resides. Doris found the plans and she and Gene revised them, to include a screened in sun porch overlooking Stoney Brook, an intermittent stream behind the property. The space is a nice retreat, complete with matching stained glass lamps, overstuffed soft yellow porch furniture and two lovely watercolors of tropical birds by Gene’s Aunt Ruth. This home is a three bedroom, two bath stone structure with a two-car garage, which nestles off Cash Valley Road. The steep woods form a backdrop up from Stoney Brook that makes the view magnificent. Gardens abound. Gene enjoyed making whimsical “Ugly Birds” for the front garden from copper balls a friend had shared, which sit near the gorgeous stone front porch.
When Gene asked Doris what kind of furniture she wanted him to make, she showed him a small washstand that was in the feed shed of the orchard farm where she grew up in Flintstone. He rebuilt and refinished it. Doris appreciated it for its simplicity and beauty, so Gene fashioned much of the furniture to match. This walnut washstand, along with a spectacular grandfather’s clock, sits in the entryway. In the formal dining room, with antique caned seated chairs that were Doris’s grandmother’s, is a buffet, corner cupboard and teacart, all beautifully handmade by Gene. The living room houses a bay window and more of the furniture that Gene enjoyed crafting. The coffee table has inlaid blocks, exactly like a 3-D quilt pattern. There are huge wall-unit bookshelves, a stereo cabinet, a side table and a hexagon shaped side table with the same 3-D block pattern repeated in the center. A wall-to-wall stone fireplace on one wall features a kinetic sculpture called “Wings” by David C. Roy.
In the kitchen is Doris’ grandmother’s octagon Civil War era cherry table. It matches the cherry cupboards that are complete with white porcelain knobs. A butcher-block table is nearby. A small sitting room borders the kitchen. Gene designed a truly serviceable storage cabinet, where tablecloths hang vertically on a pullout hinge and never wrinkle. A TV perches on top. Several leather wingback chairs and an octagon oriental rug complete the cozy space. A small fireplace, which backs up to the one in the living room, is unique.
In the master bedroom, Gene’s large cedar chest matches the grand Victorian bed, rocking chair, bureau and footstool from Doris’ grandmother. “Gene was also into efficiency,” Doris smiles as she opens a computer desk in the third bedroom that she has made into her office. Side tables pop out and folding legs appear to support additional workspace when the need arises. All around the room are family photos that mirror the genealogy work that Gene also loved. Walking downstairs, a butcher block bar top is pieced together like a log cabin patterned quilt, with all the various shades of walnut and cherry spaced in perfect harmony.
Gene made holiday gifts for others out of the special woods that went into his furniture. Some examples are boxes with hidden drawers, clocks, and the most intricate bouquets of wooden tulips. Gene’s artistic talents didn’t end with wood. He took an oil painting class when they lived in Kansas and several of his works are highlighted throughout the home. He also made the perfect frames for and matted many oversized bird prints by Whitlatch of West Virginia. Gene embodied the notion of passing along goodness, passing along some of himself in the art that he loved creating. Lucky are those relatives and friends who own a piece of Gene’s spectacular work!