THE STURBRIDGE LIFE
Appreciating the extraordinary talent of Paul Girouard of Fine Lines Cabinetry, Sturbridge, MA
By Chryseia Brennan
The Appalachians boast a rich history of music and woodworking, often marrying the two in heirloom instruments, but they have nothing on Sturbridge. Two years ago my son Cole, Air Force pilot by career, musician by hobby, stopped at a local music shop. A wooden electric guitar caught his eye. His interest piqued when he learned that the maker was local. “Ma, I have to meet this guy.”
Paul Girouard agreed to meet with us for a few minutes; he was busy finishing a cabinetry project. The minutes turned to hours as they discussed music, wood, instruments and art. Before we left, Paul had an order for a new guitar, and Brimfield artist Meredith Berthiaume had visited to get an idea of the artwork that she would put on it.
The guitar, delivered to Cole last Christmas, is beautiful. He loves playing it; still surprised that he found it in Sturbridge. But none of us should be. We know the capability and versatility of Sturbridge folk, how we use materials at hand to build and create. We know that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. And most of us are pretty good at more than just one thing.
Some work speaks for itself. Paul’s work sings. His pieces are unique: whether cabinetry, fine furniture or musical instrument. “One of the things I like to do when designing a piece is to incorporate the natural character of the wood. People say, ‘Oh, Fine Lines made that.’ They can tell by a knot, or a butterfly holding a crack together.” The flaws become prized marks of distinction.
Paul learned at his father’s workbench, making spoons to go with saltboxes, a hobby that his father sold to local shops. “Dad could do everything,” he said. The small wooden boxes are still around; his mother found one at a tag sale a few years ago. Paul had made the spoon for it as a youngster in the basement workshop of the Cedar Lake home where he still lives today.
Attending Tantasqua High School, Paul worked at the Fiskedale bakery, and planned to become a chef. Never one to settle for less, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and began working as a chef in local restaurants. As the years passed, he decided to try woodworking again, and he worked his way up through a custom cabinetry business in Connecticut.
“Eventually things changed, and I wanted to work for myself,” Paul explains. A couple friends of my father had built the shop at 4 Stagecoach; I always thought it would be a good workshop.” He bought the building in 2004, and the rest is history. He added guitars to his line about nine years ago, when a friend brought in a damaged solid-body guitar knowing that Paul had played since he was eight years old and hoping he could fix it. “We took it apart and repaired it, and once I saw how it was made I made another,” he said.
We need not trace our roots from the Mayflower to find a sense of stability and belonging; need not follow a generational trade passed from parent to child to do well. We need only do our best, and do our share. Paul speaks of learning by doing, of the many new skills he honed when setting up shop for himself: “lacquers and finishes, drawer slide construction, management and marketing.”
Our heritage comes from a past of reuse, repurpose, recycle and reclaim, and Paul loves to work in reclaimed woods. He scours lumber suppliers along the coast for old barn wood, reclaimed oak and maple. “Aside from reclaimed wood, I love walnut,” Paul says. “It’s just beautiful; I love the grain.” He speaks of antiques, and looking for signs that the builder took the time to do it properly: “Look at the joinery, if it is mortise and tenon, look at the dovetails. The finish tells a lot about it’s age, whether shellac or wax as opposed to newer lacquers.”
Paul has lived in Sturbridge all of his life. “It’s been fun; it’s important to enjoy what you do, to enjoy coming to work every day. It’s a great area to work in, very central,” he says. “I’ve worked as far away as Boston, Yarmouth, ME and Keene NH. We’ve made tons of friends over the years and worked with so many good people.” Paul Girouard is definitely part of our Sturbridge way of life; his work will stand the test of time.