Reprinted with permission from the Gaston Gazette —The Editor.
The furniture in Edward Covington’s home is built to last.
He made sure of it.
His family’s secluded Gastonia home is filled with period-style furniture he’s either hand-crafted or restored. In the kitchen is the wormy chestnut-topped table with a maple base he built.
The formal dining room highlights a restored 1920s-era table and china cabinet out of a barn belonging to his wife Amy’s kinfolk in North Georgia, as well as an 1880s oak sideboard out of Philadelphia a friend in the antique business picked up for him. A 1910s altar style table from his mother’s side sits in one corner; a matching chair from his father’s side rests in another.
They’ve all been built or restored solidly enough that their three daughters will use them one day if they want.
“They’ll stand the test of time,” Covington said. “When you can make furniture and buy stuff that lasts, you only have to buy it once.”
None of the pieces are tucked away and brought out only for holidays and special occasions. Covington doesn’t believe in making things to be set up and worshipped.
“You make things to last, things your family can enjoy and something that people can treasure because they know who’s made it,” he said. “If it’s not used, it’s not worth doing.”
The modern-day craftsman was a furniture man before he was a man. He grew up admiring his cabinet-making uncle. As a ninth grader in his hometown of Rockingham, he spent his lunch hour in the woodworking shop — it was a chance to use tools he didn’t have.
He built his own furniture — entertainment center, coffee tables and the like — as a college kid at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he graduated with an engineering degree in 1981.
“It was not made for anything other than utilitarian purposes,” he said.
Learning the craft
He took a job at Wix Filters after graduation. It brought him and Amy to the area permanently in 1987. They joined Kings Mountain Baptist Church, where Covington met a guy — J.C. Bridges — who introduced him to another guy — John Leake III — who would become his furniture-making guide. Leake is a custom furniture builder and owner of Leake’s Antiques & Cabinetmakers in York.
“I told him I wanted to save up enough money to buy one of his pieces,” Covington said. “He told me if I wanted, he’d teach me how to build it myself.”
Covington proved an exceptional student. After Leake’s instruction, he built an 18th century-style cherry writing desk in 1990. It was Covington’s first attempt at dovetailing, used to join the sides of a drawer to the front. It took 25 hours to complete.
“The first true piece of fine furniture I built was that one,” he said.
It maintains a prominent spot in the master suite, which doubles as a showcase for Covington’s handiwork. There’s the pencil-post bed with solid cherry side rails and brass bed bolt covers he built a couple years later. He made the foot stool by the corner chair from a tree in his childhood yard.
A shaker style table with a sliding tray is updated as a computer desk. Both bedroom dressers have cedar dust panels between each drawer, in addition to fine dovetailing — done by hand with a saw and chisel — that signify their craftsmanship. Bedside chests adorn both sides of the bed.
All of the pieces were built from scratch and fashioned in the Queen Anne and Chippendale styles of the 18th century, typified by proportional and clean design. It’s the American furniture type Covington prefers.
“I like the simplicity of it,” he said. “In my mind, the construction and the style stand the test of time … it’s practical, it’s durable and it’s stunning.”
Built the old fashioned way
New pieces are built old school in the three-car detached garage that’s been converted into a woodworking shop, where even the maple work table has a history — it came from an old mill and was a butcher’s table top before being converted into his parents’ dining room table.
Time spent there is strictly a hobby — Covington, 53, works long hours as Vice President of Quality Assurance at Wix. He takes on projects for family members, friends and church when he can.
“I take a lot of pleasure in taking someone’s ancestor’s article, putting new life into it and watching them use it,” he said. “The Lord’s blessed me, there’s no doubt about that. I want to give back and this is just one way to do it.”
Covington is a throwback in this day and age of instant furniture. Most of what he builds or restores takes between 60 to 120 hours, so free Saturdays and vacations are spent in the shop. He takes his motto, “wear out, not rust out,” to heart.
“It takes awhile when you add up a full-time job and family and go to church,” he said. “But I want my free time to matter and stand for something. When you’re finished, you can sit back and look at it and say time well spent.”
He’s built or restored hundreds of pieces big and small the past two decades. He’s made 20 or so demilune tables at about 20 hours per table. They make nice corner tables and great gifts, as do the serving trays and banana holders he makes.
One year, a lady at church wanted a casserole tray. He made a pattern using 18th century techniques and leftover materials from other projects (“A good woodworker is also a conservationist,” he said). It took about 15 hours to make one; he’s since made more than he can remember.
“I will have people tell me they’re too pretty to use,” he said. “I’ll say they’re too pretty not to use.”
For the time Covington spends at his hobby, you’d think it’d be relaxing. It can be, but it also takes a lot of thought and attention to detail.
“I like accomplishing things so it’s an outlet to accomplishing something with my hands,” he said. “It’s relaxing once it’s done. It’s very gratifying. It makes you feel like you’ve done something.”