By James D. McCallisterPhotos provided by Patrick Mahoney and John Wrightenberry
Patrick Mahoney, owner and principal carpenter at his company Rosewood Restorations, saw his interest in creative woodworking flower during childhood, when he took every opportunity he could to sneak into his father’s shop and start banging boards together. These many decades later, Mahoney, now 60, displays a commitment to quality of craftsmanship that bears out his lifelong passion for building. The road to his current status as a master carpenter wended its way through a number of side trips, including a stint as part of the U. S. Army Ordnance Corps during the Vietnam War.
Following his discharge in 1970, he embarked upon a course of study following his life’s other great passion, that of painting. He studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, and in 1975 received a Bachelor of Fine Art degree. Later, he’d spend time as an independent scholar in Japan, learning both carpentry and traditional Japanese painting techniques such as sumi ink on silk from an old master.
Once Mahoney settled in the picturesque Ventura County, California, town of Ojai, he continued developing his skills as a painter, as well as nurturing an interest in photography, an art form in which he also became proficient. By 1980 he hadn’t given up his dreams of painting, but decided that he did need a separate income stream. So, he began working construction jobs two days a week, this work leading to an apprenticeship with a master carpenter, a relationship that would last for 12 years. “We built houses, additions, bookshelves, built-ins, fancy trim work — the gamut of carpentry.”
In a few years he went from rough framing to fine finishing work, before next becoming a cabinet maker. After he went out on his own, he received commissions to build all manner of custom work. “I built walnut and cherry gun cabinets, cherry wood
bookshelves with rolling library ladders, benches, small pieces of furniture.” Mahoney’s
greatest challenge in those years came in the commission of an enormous project at an Ojai billionaire’s ranch, a 20×12 oak entrance gate that gave him nightmares. “In fact, I turned him down — I didn’t think I could do it.
The challenge came in the size of the project, as well as the fact that the landowner wanted the gate to appear “a hundred years old.”
His reputation preceded him, however, and the billionaire insisted that Mahoney was the man for the job. After some sleepless nights and much preparation, Mahoney completed this project to his wealthy client’s satisfaction, and then had a new signature piece that demonstrated his capability to tackle any challenge.
When Mahoney moved to Columbia in 2003 to be closer to family, he saw in its older neighborhoods what he perceived as a strong a market for restoration work. His work here took on a new focus: that of restoring and repairing furniture and other objects so that a casual observer wouldn’t be able to distinguish his repair from the original period detail of a given piece. “When I do my job correctly, my work disappears — you don’t see it.” And when he talks about his restoration work, he means any task from repairing columns and posts on an aging porch up to a job repairing and rehabilitating an antique desk worth ten-thousand dollars, but he’s happy taking jobs as small as repairing a table leg or a broken cabinet door, repairing such pieces — again, invisibly — to a condition that matches the original appearance. “What I love is someone bringing me a piece that they think is smashed beyond repair, and seeing their face after I’m able to put it back again.” His first signature piece in Columbia, one that immediately became an extremely visible calling card, was not a restoration job but rather yet another gate, this one only 4×8 in size, but one that presented its own difficulty: the homeowner wanted a mahogany gate entering into his garden, a piece that when finished would be quite heavy. The crafting of the gate itself wouldn’t present much of a problem, but hanging it successfully might. While expensive, this custom job required that no corners be cut. “I found a company in California that manufactured special ball-bearing hinges for hanging a gate this heavy — each one could handle 500 pounds.” A machine shop here in Columbia also made special plates that Mahoney could mortise into the brick. “I knew this gate would be opened and closed with frequency for many years. It had to be right.” The day came to install his work.
“The gate was so heavy it took three or four people to lift it.” Once on the hinges, however, the gate swung so smoothly that a gentle breeze moved it back and forth — perfection.
Mahoney’s biggest non-restoration custom job in his years here came when a law firm, Richardson Plowden, contracted him to build a law library in an old building the firm had purchased and remodeled.
“They wanted a traditional law library. I sweated bullets over that one — as a one man operation with a small shop, I had to build a library that was four times the size of my own workshop.” Mahoney went in with laser devices, measuring and marking to a 1/16th of an inch. He constructed the various pieces in components, trucked them over from his shop, and installed them. All fit together perfectly. While apparently no job is too big for Rosewood Restorations, again, the work that gives Mahoney the most pleasure is making custom pieces of furniture on what he calls a “human scale,” as well as smaller restoration jobs. But no matter the scale of the job, his is a full-service operation. “I do the design, building, and installation — soup to nuts, as they say.” What sets Mahoney apart from a typical carpenter, he says, is his artist’s eye, degreed as he is in Fine Art Painting. “I have an artist’s eye that I bring to my work. I have a good sense of proportion and design. I’m not merely a carpenter per se — I’m more of a craftsman.” More information about Mahoney’s work can be found at rosewoodrestorations.com.