September 25, 2018
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This couple bond over tiny furniture but relish time apart, too

By Kathleen Pierce, BDN Staff
Updated:

KENNEBUNK, Maine — Tiny houses are trendy. But tiny furniture? To Linda LaRoche and James Hastrich, the craft has never died down.

Behind the facade of their inviting home, in a wooded enclave in Kennebunk, a world of tiny wonders unfolds. Both occupants make painstakingly accurate reproductions of historically significant furniture: 1- to 2-inch scale hand-painted Shaker boxes, intricate chests, ball-and-claw-foot tables and chairs are made in miniature.

Together for nearly 20 years, Hastrich and LaRoche share a love of clean lines, American furniture and dovetail joints.

“We hit if off pretty quickly because our lifestyles were so similar,” said Hastrich, who fell in love with the details of her William and Mary chest he inspected at a furniture show in Boston nearly 40 years ago. “I thought, boy that girl sure does make some damn good dovetails.”

Seating a few feet away in their comfortable, high-ceilinged sunroom, LaRoche, 70, lights up. “Isn’t he cute?”

Uniting over this skilled, minute craft later in life, their enthusiasm for each other gathers strength from their shared passion. This exacting practice in an esoteric medium requires patience, watchmaker-like tools, tiny dividers with ivory handles and research that includes poring over history and design books to get styles right.

As mini reproduction furniture makers, their works are fit for dollhouses but are not sold as toys. They are collected across the country and endorsed by acclaimed institutions that include The American Folk Art Museum in New York City and Historic Deerfield.

The couple live and work under one roof, sharing meals, laughter, wine, the same discipline and tools. Unless they are collaborating on a piece — such as the Hadley chest he built, she carved and he painted — they largely work alone.

“I really relish alone time, quiet time. I couldn’t possibly work in the same space,” she said.

Partners in life, they work apart in separate studios. He has a top loft in a former attic. She commands the wing off their bedroom. Like their past lives that led them to the discipline — Hastrich was a set designer, and LaRoche discovered a love of handwork while building model ships — their workspaces are individual. Hers is a more refined library, while his feels like a sawdusty workshop. Many pieces, such as the colonial chest painted with folk scenes, would look great in an estate but fit in the palm of your hand.

“It’s so freaking cool, we can hardly believe it ourselves,” said Hastrich, who creates each piece as though it were regular sized, using the materials of the age.

Exhibiting at furniture shows across New England, they met at adjacent tables.

“I thought he was cute and funny and had no interest in him — other than he was raking in more money than I was,” LaRoche said. “That was interesting to me.”

It took years for the pair to get together. She was a widow and not looking. But when he asked her out for a drink one night after a workshop in Castine, she accepted.

“I think it’s unusual that two people whose lifestyles and workstyles were so comparable found each other and came together to share a life together,” she said. “It’s been a beautiful life.”

“We feed off one another,” Hastrich added.

Spending hours alone in their studios, separated by different levels and several sets of stairs, their home is the theater where these two professionals’ lives unfold. How do they keep their worklife from interfering with their homelife? He likes to go to art openings and socialize. She prefers the solitude of days of uninterrupted work holed up in her studio.

“It’s very quiet, very peaceful — shut off from the rest of the world,” LaRoche said. “It’s my world. Nobody comes in here unless invited.”

What’s the best thing about their live-work dynamic? Having someone to talk to when the clock strikes midnight.

“We are both night owls,” LaRoche said. “He used to call me up when he had a problem on a piece. I would come over at 1 in the morning, drink some wine and help.”

Now if Hastrich, 73, is stuck replicating the right hinges to close a chest, she’s not far away.

Their nearness is mutually beneficial, both professionally and personally.

“We were looking for each other, though we didn’t know it,” he said.

They are laid back about life but demanding about their work. At a time when most septuagenarians are winding down, they seem to be hitting their stride, together.

“Retire is not even in our vernacular,” she said. “People retire from jobs they are happy to be done with,” he added. “We are looking at 10 years of working time and thinking that may not be enough time to complete everything that we want to complete.”

 


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