A passion for wood
by Irma Wyhs
When you get to the stoplight in the country east of Longmont, Colo., at Weld County Road and Highway 119 you are almost there. Go north a little further to the corn field and the wide open distance beyond and right across the road is a sign that says, “Knute’s Antiques &Restoration.” Pull into the driveway under some beautiful big birch trees ” you are there.
You will find yourself in front of a charming antique store with its group of “Welcome” bears (they are carved wooden ones) and several inviting pieces of old furniture. The shop on the outside is finished in nicely planed and treated wood, a clue to what will greet you inside.
This is the antique shop and, just as impressive or even more so, the furniture restoration area of Knute’s, owned and operated by Chuck and Alice Greenman, two people who share a reverence and passion for wood.
Beginning in high school in his hometown of Tracy, Minn., Chuck started early with his appreciation for ” and expertise in ” woodworking when he took a class on the subject. He credits his teacher for instilling much of his interest, a teacher, by the way, who was so impressed with Chuck’s work and innate feel for it that he asked Chuck to work on some antique furniture that he owned. Also, for Chuck, the teacher managed to extend what was ordinarily a two-year woodworking course into a four-year course.
However, once out of school, Chuck did not immediately pursue the craft, but went to work for the railroad. His dad was an engineer. His family lived by the railroad track and they loved the trains. He was alternately a fireman and engineer.
“Railroading was in the blood,” said Alice Laavs Greenman, whom Chuck married on Oct. 25, 1961, when he was engineering out of Waterton, S.D. They moved to Colorado shortly after their marriage and eventually he quit the railroad and worked for various industries, including the Denver Water Board, as a machinist, a job that would later prove useful in his woodworking as far as equipment and measurement calibrations and so on.
Chuck and Alice had two children, Lynda, who lives in Longmont, and Kenneth who lives in Scottsbluff, Neb. It was actually through Kenneth, in a roundabout way, that Chuck and Alice got into the restoration business professionally and on a full-time basis.
Kenneth had purchased a Victorian house and tried and tried to remove the many layers of paint in the home. (His efforts even included the use of a heat gun which almost resulted in a fire.) Then he found a commercial paint remover which proved to be excellent and Kenneth proudly showed his success with it to his dad on his parent’s next visit to Scottsbluff.
“It was like, ‘Whoa ” is this great stuff or what!'” said Kenneth. Sprayed on a seemingly eternal-lasting and quite ugly paint in Kenneth’s kitchen, the clear liquid just bubbled that ugly stuff right off the wall in minutes. His parents were duly impressed.
Six months later they called the manufacturer and ended up selling the product at weekend mall craft shows and furniture displays. Proceeding to antique shows, they were soon answering numerous and varied questions about the restoration of wood after stripping, etc. So Chuck and Alice added a waterbased finishing product which included stains, varnishes and sand seals to the line of products they were selling. Soon they were doing 35 shows a year (just on weekends) as Chuck was still working full-time.
One thing led to another and before they knew it they were in the furniture refinishing business. Next thing they knew they had a shop and an antiques store sharing the space. Business was booming and Chuck quit his job and became a full-time professional wood repairer/restoration man and he and Alice became professional antique collectors/sales persons. Last summer they moved the antique store into a garage next to the store/shop so there was more room for the ever-increasing restoration concern.
Awhile back, Chuck finished the restoration of a 36-piece set that included tables, dresser and a set of dining chairs for which he made entirely new backs carved so intricately and delicately in an open-work pattern that even Alice (who obviously knew his capabilities) was still amazed.
“I really wondered if he could do it,” she said. The original work had been machine stamped. He did it ” and more.
To replace a shattered leg on an antique table required many detailed measurements from one of the originals so that a square piece of wood turned and carved on the lathe would come out as an exact match.
Mahogany, walnut, burled walnut, burled oak, cherry and so on ” any wood, it doesn’t matter. Each and any can be worked with; shattered, broken, splintered, all can undergo renewal from the “renaissance restoration man” who has a touch and feel for it down to the very grain. Chuck has even been able to cut new “finger joints” for antique dove-tailed furniture. It has now been over 10 years since Chuck quit his job to work full-time in the art of fine woodworking.
Knute’s (pronounced with the “k”) ” now there is an interesting name. It was the name of a Scandinavian King who has through the centuries lent his name to many a Scandinavian. (Remember college football legend Knute Rockne?) In the case of Chuck “Knute” Greenman, it was a nickname given him by his grandfather and carried on by a favorite uncle in whose honor the shop was given the name.
Leaving the lathes, the routers, planers, chisels and wood shavings, we go into the antique shop where Alice presides ” this is where you can pick up anything from a beautiful china cabinet or costly period furniture to simple doodads and old toys. Chuck and Alice have their own library of books and information that helps them research furniture and they have learned to look for dates in unlikely places. They are presently investigating a child’s rolltop desk believed to have been made in Paris.
Knute’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Sundays and Tuesdays. Their address is 13518 Weld Co. Road 1; and their phone is 1-800-568-8372.