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Building on a flair for design
Furniture maker from Woolwich wins national award
WOOLWICH - When Paul Wanrooij's wife, Beth, gave him a little advice, he listened. It was a decision that changed his life.

Just a few years ago, Wanrooij was a manager at a mail order business in North Carolina. There, he sold among other things Cashmere sweaters. It was a typical full-time job that got the bills paid with money left over for life's extras. Today, he's left behind his personnel-and-payroll life and financial security to become a self-employed furniture maker.

"I think this is fabulous; Paul's never been happier," said Beth of her 54-year-old husband's new vocation, even though the kitchen and living room in the house they rent are used as a storage facility for some of Paul's latest work. Large, shiny bookcases and low, multicolored wood benches furniture as fine as it is unique give a cluttered appearance to a home that is otherwise sparsely furnished. In the midst of it all, despite Paul's obvious artisanship and ambition, sits a simple coffee table the couple purchased at a furniture store.

"It's a good table that you can buy at the store very inexpensively," he said. "In my pieces, form is very important. It's what makes my work stand out from the rest."

The critics agree that Paul's work stands out. Last month, for his "Sunrise Bench," he won a coveted 2005 Niche Award during The Buyer's Market of American Craft in Philadelphia. The same bench won the "Excellence Award" recently at the New Visions Gallery in Wisconsin, and his "Oceana End Table" won "Best of Show" at the Will's Creek Survey Exhibition in Maryland.

Wanrooij enjoys the recognition, but he knows it won't sell his pieces. What does sell his pieces is a certain person at a certain time at a certain gallery falling in love.

"It happens in a second, just like that," he said, snapping his fingers for emphasis.

Showing his work in galleries throughout the country has begun to yield results. Wanrooij has built and sold more than 60 pieces, but as a business venture he's just barely surviving.

"I'm hopeful that I will make it one day," he said. "My idea is to expand then increase production."

Wanrooij was born in The Netherlands. He didn't complete his formal education, opting instead for financial reasons to work for the family business. About 10 years ago, he came to the United States to visit a friend in Iowa. That's where he met Beth. They've lived in several areas of the country.

Woodworking became a part of their relationship one year when she suggested he build a sailboat.

"She thought all Dutch people know how to build boats," he said with a chuckle. "I finished it but I didn't like sailing. I gave it to her brother-in-law."

Then she bought him a small lathe for his birthday. Then in August 2001, he started a two-year, furniture-making course at Haywood Community College in North Carolina. An illness in the family prevented him from finishing that course, but he learned enough to start designing and building furniture. Now he's working on spreading his name around.

"To distinguish yourself is very difficult," he said. "It's not easy to sell this furniture."
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