MOUNT VERNON — The three-story yellow wooden Oddfellows Hall just feet from Minnehonk Lake caught the eye of Dutch woodworker, craftsman and designer Erik Groenhout.
Almost two years ago, he and his wife, Rachel, were looking for a home in Maine where he could also practice his craft.
The building, a prominent structure in town built between 1915 and 1920, proved perfect.
“It’s an inspiring building,” Groenhout said. “I’m happy we bought it. It’s a nice little town, good for business.”
It just needed some work.
“You have to be a little crazy to start it,” he said. “But I’m a pretty optimistic type of guy.”
Ten months ago, he quit his teaching post at HMC, a vocational institute for woodworking and furniture in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Groenhout started the renovation work in earnest after that.
“In the Netherlands, you work until you’re 67, then you can retire,” said Groenhout, who’s 56. “I chose to quit my job and start all over again.”
While he spends almost all his time on the building, the family lives with his wife’s parents in Winthrop. She is coordinator of teacher education assessment at the University of Maine at Farmington.
This week, Groenhout was covered in wood chips and drywall dust.
Drywallers framed a large, sound-insulated workshop on the main level, and an electrician ran coils of wires in one corner of the living space a level below. There, 6-by-6-inch supports bolstered wooden posts, and a new wooden column more than 16 feet long awaited the wooden spiral staircase he will fabricate.
The building levels, with half-floors and stairways along the back and front, can be confusing at first.
Groenhout’s belongings, still packed in the boxes that came across the Atlantic in a shipping container, were stacked on the main level near the stage.
Groenhout is restoring the building, changing as little as possible, while making it livable and workable.
Groenhout said the building was once a theater. The workshop, does not occupy all of the main floor — the stage remains, as does a large space for chairs in front. The light box on the top floor that once was the opening for the movie projector’s lens now offers good views on what’s going on below.
His goal is to move the family into the building in August and then open his business, Green’s Wood Art LLC, in September, making what he described as “environmentally friendly wooden objects with an artistic touch.”
Images from his portfolio show intricate wood cabinets, crescent-shaped desks that appear to fold together, and a wall-mounted storage cabinet that coverts to a table supported by a classy, red-trimmed walking stick.
“I taught for over 27 years at a huge fine woodworkers college in the Netherlands,” Groenhout said. “There were more than 1,000 students only in fine woodworks. Even on a European scale we were pretty big.”
When he began at the school, there were 120 students, and he helped build programs that encouraged the woodworkers and furniture-makers to become more creative craftsmen and furniture restorers. Finally, he developed a course in boat building.
“What I did was based on all my learning experience in furniture design, furniture making, restoration and boat-building,” he said.
Now he wants to combine high-tech art with traditional crafts. “What I really like to do is combine functional art with craftsmanship,” he said. “I want to do it on a local scale.”
He went out in the woods of Mount Vernon with Ralph Hopkins and selected the trees he wanted. Now, 10 logs of elm, ash, beechnut and red oak are drying.
Groenhout did all the designing for the building restoration — even to the point of siting all the electrical boxes — in the Netherlands. And while he’s had to make some adjustments, most everything is going according to plan.
The bedrooms are framed out for his three daughters, the old pine floorboards that were taken up are now going to be restored and some even converted to kitchen cabinets.
“Everything is almost ready for sheet-rocking,” he said.
He’ll heat with a couple of wood stoves. He is still deciding whether to insulate the exterior walls of the floor that will be the family’s home, and he’s tracked the interior and outdoor temperatures over the past few months to help him decide.
“I’m kind of in love with the building and want to keep it as is,” he said. Part of the floor and one wall was rotted in the living level, so Groenhout has to do repairs.
He sees what he’s accomplished so far and looks ahead. He said it took half a day to brace one post, and he knew he had 30 more to do.
“You breathe, do one, the next one and suddenly it’s done,” he said.
He still had 69 windows to do.
The building’s exterior will get a facelift as well, keeping the yellow color, and the addition of navy blue on the concrete and around windows.
Groenhout likes to do the work himself, hiring out jobs only when he really needs help.
After getting a $40,000 estimate for the painting, Groenhout bought high-end staging for $11,000.
“Now we can do it very safely ourselves now and in the future,” he said.
Betty Adams — 621-5631