A favorite kitchen and a favorite bag


“Somewhere between forty and fifty, I realized this is who I am:  I make things. I build furniture. I built my house.  Instead of buying it, I make it.  I even made my own eyeglasses once – I make things out of old things; that’s who I am.”

I visited Robert Hanlon of Walker Creek Furniture recently to interview him for a magazine piece.  Beginning with his beautiful handmade furniture, moving on to his lyrical, sometimes Chagall-like paintings on old boards, to his lush-rough leather bags, to his magical kitchen, I kept walking deeper and deeper into the rabbit warren of beauty that is Robert Hanlon’s imagination and ability.

In Robert’s painting studio, tucked up into the second floor of an 18th century shed just beside the store, and a few steps down a plank walk from his bedroom, a copse of easels held works in progress, parted by passels of paints and brushes.

Working almost solely on old boards, Robert arrived at painting just eight years ago – at fifty-two – after falling in love for years with the old paint on doors he was collecting for his handmade furniture business.

“I would look at a tabletop and see landscapes. – I was an ‘unpainter’,” he said, an irony that clearly amuses him.  “I scraped paint – I was a scraper of paint…It was a magic moment of putting paint on a surface for the first time.”



In his homemade house just behind the shop, a staircase to the second floor begins with a tree whose arching branch extends across the kitchen ceiling, an actual bee hive, looking appropriately sculptural, hangs from the branch.  The stairs to the second and third floors rise on the strength of bundled saplings. The treads are covered in leather, making a lovely, soft “whoosh” as you step.  The whole house is a tableau of restraint and abandon.  Whoopi Goldberg liked it so much Hanlon built a staircase for her.


As I readied to leave I wanted a painting.  I wanted a kitchen.  I couldn’t resist the bag.  Each Hanlon purse is unique; Robert follows the folds of the hide, allowing the skin to create the form.

I also left with a treasured Milk Paint lesson:  Milk Paint literally lasts forever.  It’s made with milk, wood ash (from people’s fireplaces and stoves) and most often lichen.

milk + wood ash = calcium + lime.

Calcium + lime is the same components as cement, thus milk paint is basically like painting with cement.

That beautiful pale green associated with milk paint is from lichen, which is an impermeable natural dye.  Early Americans also made red paint with rusty nails.



Robert and his wife Patty, an artist who works in mixed media, are having their first joint exhibit this month, entitled “Two Studios and A Marriage,” with an opening reception at Walker Creek Furniture November 24th from 3-7.


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