Amid sandpaper and saws on a high hill in South Kent, Elizabeth Place is carving out a second career. A few years ago she endeavored into woodworking, while keeping her day job as a proposal writer for large federal contracts.
“What I do for a living with proposal writing is so dry and so technical…I always am doing something on the side that’s creative.”
For a while, Place says, sewing and cooking did the trick. Then her mother passed away eight years ago. As they closed the estate on what was her childhood home in Westport, a new hobby took root.
“When we were leaving, we knew what was going to happen to the property, and I knew that a certain tree was going to be taken down…and it affected me so.”
Here, Place trails off, caught off guard by tears the old story is bringing to the surface. She quickly recovers, and nostalgically explains that in first grade, she’d been given an elm sapling to bring home. Over the course of 50 years, she’d watched it grow from a foot tall to well over 70 feet. It was giant, she says. And gorgeous.
“I can’t believe I didn’t harvest the wood. I just…I should’ve figured that out.”
What Place didn’t know then is how many trees she would someday save. She soon learned about the Japanese philosophy of giving a tree a second life. She started poking around in sawmills, and studying books on woodworking. She made a couple shelves for her husband’s den, and then a farm table. Place also found a mentor—a master cabinet maker in Gaylordsville named Don Lawson. A few years into the journey, she decided this needed to be her retirement business, and called it Berkshire Place Tables.
“The woodworking just did it for me. I LOVE it.”
If you’re picturing Place in dirty khakis and a baseball cap, you’re way off. She sands with her signature red nails, and says the friendly guys at the local steel and sawmills have quite a laugh at her expense when she strides in wearing her mink jacket.
“You know, I definitely do not fit the mold.”
Despite appearances or assumptions, Place does the work all by hand—sanding, finishing, and collaborating with local blacksmiths to forge the iron legs for each of her creations. She also has a core sense of design, embracing another Japanese philosophy known as ‘kintsugi’, which translates to ‘celebration of imperfection.’
“I try to highlight the grain, and all the imperfections from weather and disease and try to really reveal the nature of the wood and how it’s grown.”
Place works in walnut, hemlock, maple, cherry, and beech, striving to preserve the bark whenever possible, which results in much-coveted live edges. Over time, she’s developed a few signature pieces: writing desks, dining room tables that double as library tables, and portable farm tables. She thinks those last ones will find their way into several Litchfield County homes.
“You can store all the pieces and bring them outside for an outdoor event…You can put them up anyplace.”
Place sells these practical works of art at a gallery on her South Kent property, or customers can peruse cuts of wood she has in storage, and commission a piece.
“I’m really looking to gain a following of designers in Fairfield and Litchfield County that know what I do, and they’ll come to me for those particular pieces they’re looking for.
Most of my pieces, and I think eventually all of my pieces, will have brass nameplates for monograms and dates…I really see these as kind of heirloom pieces.”
Berkshire Place’s one-of-a-kind tables range from $900 – $14,000, and for generations promise to give a tree a second life. Berkshire Place Tables.
Sponsored story by Brandee Gilmore.