Paulus Wanrooij, of Paulus Fine Furniture, poses for a photo in his workshop on Harpswell Neck. (KELLI PARK PHOTO)
Deep within the woodlands along the shores of Middle Bay, there is an artist who has found his calling. In his woodworking, Paulus Wanrooij captures the harmony, beauty, and functionality with the tranquil essence of the natural elements that surround him.
“For my whole life, I’ve lived in quiet places,” said Wanrooij, who was born and raised in the Netherlands, and finds himself at home near the water. “My hometown was on the water at the very end of a bay, so we had the tides going in and out.”
In 1994, Wanrooij moved to the U.S. after meeting his future wife, Beth, through mutual friends in Iowa. Wanrooij, who had worked as a meditation instructor in the Netherlands, found himself toiling behind a desk at an office job, while taking pleasure in visiting galleries. “My wife saw that I was always touching things, so she said, ‘You just have to learn to do something with your hands.'”
“When we got married in 1995, my wife said, ‘Why don’t you build me a boat? You’re from the Netherlands … you know how to do those things,'” Wanrooij recalled. In response, he built a 14-foot sailboat, only to discover that he didn’t like sailing.
After moving to North Carolina, Wanrooij was accepted into the Fine Woodworking Program at Haywood Community College, near Asheville, which had a long waitlist and only accepted eight students each year. During his seven months there, Wanrooij exceeded the two-year program’s requirements for technical skills. He mastered the art of dovetails and developed an interest in curves, inspired by the malleable nature of veneer strips.
The spark that started his creative fire had been lit.
From there, things took on a life of their own. While living in northern Michigan, Wanrooij took out a loan to purchase machinery so he could immerse himself in his craft and build furniture that he showed in galleries in Baltimore and Philadelphia. After meeting with some success, he and his wife decided to relocate to the East Coast.
Wanrooij moved to Maine in 2004 without ever having visited and found himself in Woolwich, building furniture in a two-car garage with broken concrete floors and low ceilings, which made it difficult to maneuver large boards. His passion for the craft drove him up and down the East Coast in a minivan full of furniture, visiting galleries to see if they were interested in selling his work on consignment.
A few years later, as luck would have it, a house with a large workshop surrounded by acres of woods along the shore became available on Harpswell Neck. Since then, Wanrooij has found himself, and his creativity, at home.
“Silence is the best way for me to bring (my creativity) out,” said Wanrooij, who attributes this, in part, to his lifelong practice of meditation.
“Where does the inspiration come from? That’s the big secret,” said Wanrooij, whose ideas manifest themselves in his work organically without any effort on his part — surfacing in his mind and in his craft, much like the secrets of the sea.
Wanrooij’s work has, over the course of time, become a reflection of his natural surroundings. He has been told that, unlike the heavy oak furniture of the Netherlands, his work resembles the Scandinavian style, with clean, simple lines that combine beauty, functionality, and elements of nature.
“Everything that I do has a curve in it,” said Wanrooij, whose affinity for shaping veneer strips into contemporary lines that resemble the changing tides is evident in his Oceana collection. The Oceana End Table is the only piece of furniture he has built consistently throughout his career and the only piece he builds for retail sale — everything else is made to order. The award-winning Oceana design can be found in galleries from Camden to New York City.
One of Paulus Wanrooij’s popular Oceana tables. “Everything that I do has a curve in it,” Wanrooij said. (PHOTO COURTESY PAULUS WANROOIJ)
Throughout his career, Wanrooij has channeled his artistic energy into projects large and small. Much of the time, it’s a collaborative process between the client and the designer, though larger jobs require a contractor for the installation of the finished pieces. He has done all of the woodwork, including cabinets and bookcases, for the library of a Greek Orthodox convent in Massachusetts, as well as entire sets of custom cabinets for kitchens as far away as Florida and as close as Ash Point Road. Wanrooij has seen a surge in demand from Harpswell residents in the past year — a sign that his style and interpretation of his surroundings resonates with their own.
Wanrooij hopes to keep doing what he’s doing for as long as possible and invites anyone from the community to visit his workshop, especially if they want scraps of wood (walnut, cherry, maple, etc.) with nice grain on them. He said they often end up in the fireplace, which is a pity.
Of his goals for the future, Wanrooij said that he still has all of his fingers, although one was chopped off a little bit. He’d like to keep it that way.
Paulus Fine Furniture is at 708 Harpswell Neck Road in Harpswell. For more information, go to paulusfinefurniture.com or contact the business at 207-833-5026 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freelance journalist Kelli Park has contributed to The Times Record, The Working Waterfront, Edible Maine and The Coastal Journal. A part-time college instructor and teacher of English to speakers of other languages, she lives in Cundy’s Harbor with her son, Kieran.