Keith Eames - Dartmouth Cabinet Maker
My Job - Keith Eames
What is your job?
I make everything from bespoke pieces of furniture to skirting boards, windows and doors. I design and make furniture to fit in with the style of people’s homes, working with the customer to create exactly what they want. I’ve made ornate wooden chairs for the Dorchester and regency-style furniture for a luxury apartment in Manhatten.
I make everything from furniture for stately homes to wardrobes for holiday cottages. In Dartmouth and the surrounding villages there is a huge demand for wooden windows and doors. I make and repair sash windows, and lately I have been making a lot of wooden shutters.
It’s very interesting because so many of our old buildings are in conservation areas, where you not only have to match the style of what was there originally, but also the materials. You can’t put in a hardwood window where there used to be pine, it has to be replaced with the same thing.
The majority of what I do is staircases, windows and doors, but my love is furniture making, working with intricate designs. I listen to the requirements of my customers and make them exactly what they want – commissioned pieces created to their specifications.
How long have you worked there?
I came to Dartmouth with my wife Irene in 1997 and I work out of a workshop in Nelson Road. We recently moved to Strete but we lived in Victoria Road for more than 10 years.
Have you worked anywhere else?
I grew up in Gloucestershire and left school at 16 to become an apprentice in Yate for a company that made electrical motors. I was a pattern maker, using wood and sand to create the models and moulds for making parts for engines.
It was extremely complicated and very hard work. I was an apprentice for five years before I went into the aircraft industry at Filton, where they built Concorde. I made models of things like wing profiles for wind tunnel testing.
From there I went to a drawing office and into management for a couple of engineering companies, and ended up running a company for 13 years. It was interesting, dealing with powerful clients in oil rigs and refineries, nuclear power stations and food plants.
But it was a lot of driving, and I had a defining moment when I had spent hours in one day driving from Gloucestershire to Hartlepool, working there all day, and driving all the way back, only to have to go into work early the next morning. I was 42 and I thought this can’t go on, so I left and went back to my craft, setting up on my own.
What is a typical day’s work for you?
No two days are the same really. I am either in my workshop, making things for people, or out and about working on site, fitting and repairing, dealing with clients and thinking of ways to create what they want.
What is it like working in Dartmouth?
It’s a pretty laid back pace of life and word of mouth means I am never short of work. Fitting windows in houses overlooking the River Dart is a very nice way to go to work.
Can you tell us about your family?
I met my wife Irene when we were 16. A friend and I had gone to a dance studio in Bristol to learn to dance, thinking that going to dances would be a way to meet girls. I met Irene at the studio, and I never did learn to dance. That was 1962 and we’ve been together ever since.
We came to live in Dartmouth because we had spent many holidays here, but Irene was born here, in the coastguard cottages at Compass. She was christened in St Petrox Church. We have a son, Richard, who lives in Bristol, and twin grandsons aged three-and-a-half who are my pride and joy.
I was born in Chipping Sodbury and my father was an engine fitter. He and my older brother both worked at the company where I served my apprenticeship. From a very young age I would follow my Dad around helping him with things and trying to copy the way he worked, wiring things with string, mixing cement for him, making things with wood and wire, anything that involved working with my hands.
What do you like to do when you are not at work?
We enjoy getting out and about, especially walking, and spending time with our grandchildren when they come to visit. I make wooden toys for them.
What is the best thing about your job?
It’s creative and satisfying, but I’m getting to the stage where I’m winding the business down now. In another 12 months I’ll have worked for 50 years, and I think I’m ready to retire and hand this on to someone else.
Keith can be contacted on 01803 839081 or
by email email@example.com
First published September 2010 By the Dart