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Meet Edward Bouvier of Village Woodwright in West Suburbs

Today we’d like to introduce you to Edward Bouvier.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Edward. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I started woodworking as an imaginative child. I saw tools and scrap wood unused in the basement so I picked them up and built toys for myself. It just seemed natural. Having a wide variety of interests I later studied classical music, broadcast production, public speaking, recording engineering, live sound for music, auto mechanics, art history, art drawing, mechanical drawing, and heating, air-conditioning & sheet metal fabrication.

As a career, I worked full-time in commercial/residential HVAC for 17 years. All the while I maintained a love for woodworking and building things. Then the big life interruption happened – digestive problems, near death experience, medical disability, and a string of surgeries… I call it my time off for good behavior! One is forced to take stock of where your life efforts are focused in those situations, or worded differently, “OK, God, I’m listening now. What’s next?”

After years of working by myself on mechanical equipment, I became involved with people. I volunteered in group music therapy for people with disabilities which proved very rewarding! I then became a volunteer at Kline Creek Farm, a living history 1890’s working farm… I was a woodworker and carpenter in period costume using period tools to teach and demonstrate skills for the general public and for school class trips. WOW! The bug bit me.

I began to research and study voraciously, joining historic trades organizations, and even attending educational woodworking conferences at places such as Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. I fell in love with learning, teaching, and providing a unique craft skill experience to others… AND I fell in love with pre-industrial hand tools.

Thankfully, my health and strength returned to normal over a 10 year period. I went looking for a paying job that somehow combined woodworking, hand tools, history, creative craftsmanship, and teaching. Bottom line: these jobs are rare and mostly are with non-profits who, sadly, can’t afford to pay a full-time living wage. So I started my own business to eliminate the middleman in the chain of employment! Thus was born Village Woodwright, Inc.

As I build up the business I’m taking my time to do it well. I currently only have shop space for a few jobs at a time – building custom pieces (both contemporary & reproduction-style) and restoring antique furniture. I have done some reproduction millwork for Victorian home renovations in my community but I hope to do less “on location” jobs and work more in the shop on furniture. What’s still missing from my business goals?… a unique educational experience for others. There are a lot of homeschooling parents that keep asking me about teaching children the “lost arts” of hand tool crafts. That is the next step in my business.

As a trial, I wrote a 10-week curriculum that I taught in a rented facility to about 8 boys. The responses were fabulous from all involved. Renting a room and setting up a shop from scratch once a week is not economically sustainable (you get paid for 2 out of the 8 hours involved!), so we plan to build a shop space for educational purposes in the near future. I look forward to this new opportunity as a service to the next generation!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Starting most businesses from scratch usually involves a steep learning curve! I have served 30 years in service-oriented work and my wife has decades of experience in bookkeeping, human resources, payroll, and office management. Thus, we started out with eyes wide open regarding accounting, legal obligations, risk management, and customer communication. We have two main hurdles to overcome:
1. Shop space. If I had chosen web design all I would need is a laptop and an empty table at an internet cafe. But I chose woodworking. I need multiple rooms: a hand tool shop/educational space, a clean finishing room, a power machine room for milling lumber, lumber storage, safe storage for clients’ antique pieces. There’s a lot of overhead costs and it doesn’t help that we live in an area of very high real estate costs.

2. Pricing/Labor costs. My pricing is very fair when you take into account the high quality and the comparative cost to income ratio of similar products going back generations/centuries. But, we live in an era when cheap is good. People see amazing furniture at discount stores and think I can make a quality, custom piece for the same price. Fact #1, I can’t compete with the prices of mass-produced products manufactured with inferior materials by underpaid overseas workers.

Fact #2, my products will last 100-200 years before needing repair whereas mass-produced, inferior products sometimes only last 2-3 years and are not repairable. I am often amused when I quote, say, $2,000 for a piece of furniture that will last 100+ years as a family heirloom, the client says they can’t afford it, yet they just spent $3,000 on iPhones that will last 2-3 years. It’s all a matter of the client’s perspective.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Village Woodwright, Inc. – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Building high-quality, aesthetically pleasing things that are highly functional for daily life is my overarching goal in business. My primary services include:
1. Making high-quality furnishings unique to a client’s wishes.
2. Restoring older, high-quality furniture that needs a new life – to be put back into use.
3. Reproducing furniture parts or architectural millwork for restoration jobs.
4. Developing a variety of curricula for teaching historic woodworking skills to children, later adding on classes for adults, as well.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Our future plans are building more shop space and initiating the classes I hope to teach. I guess those are two very big changes! As I stated earlier, I will implement these plans slowly so as to do them well.

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

2 Comments

  1. Claudia Gerwin

    January 23, 2018 at 10:58 pm

    Ed, so great to see your work and know a bit more about you! I hope you get that education part of your business going soon!

  2. Barbara Medeiros

    January 27, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Have you ever considered becoming involved in the makerspace movement? In my town (Northville, MI.) the Village Workshop has areas for skills such as woodworking, silk screening, metal working, quilting, printing, ceramics, etc. For a nominal monthly fee, you can use the provided state of the art equipment for your projects. It is also available for those wishing to impart their knowledge to others interested in learning.

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