Mrs. Fremont’s Special Beeswax Formula
Great moments in building history: Sometimes, just saying the right words can land you the job of a lifetime
When I started working for myself in the cabinetmaking trade, I would go to great lengths to secure a job. The Fremonts called me to design and estimate a kitchen remodel for their spacious prairie-style house. The home was beautiful. A skylight brought sunshine through the middle of the vaulted ceiling; interior trim and raised-panel doors were made of western red cedar; and to top it off, the house was situated on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.
I had not worked in the prairie style before, so after leaving the Fremonts’ home with all the pertinent kitchen measurements, I went to the library to scour every book about Frank Lloyd Wright that I could find. I eventually ended up at a local bookstore and bought Wright’s The Natural House. This book details the simplicity and influences of his “organic architecture” and gave me the frame of reference I needed to come up with something to fit the space and land the job.
Mrs. Fremont had specific ideas about a pantry, open shelving, a cantilevered Corian breakfast bar, every amenity possible for the inside of a cabinet, and a serving cabinet on wheels—essentially a cook’s dream kitchen.
I set to work drawing first the floor plan, then the elevations. Each elevation drawing had either a drawing sidebar to show a specific detail or a small mock-up that I would make to show how a hinge or other part of the kitchen would function. I even went as far as making a door and drawer front so that the Fremonts could experience what I was trying to convey.
The heart of my business is built on timeless styles, unique woods not commonly available at local lumberyards, and foolproof finishes. So when I showed up at the Fremonts’ doorstep armed with my drawings, mock-ups, and door and drawer front constructed in sassafras and applewood, I felt almost euphoric, maybe even a little cocky. Mr. Fremont greeted me at the front door and did not let me down. As soon as he saw the door and drawer front, he was practically jumping up and down, and he continued praising me even as we sat down. Mrs. Fremont, on the other hand, was obviously not impressed. She was the cook and more interested in the functionality of this hardworking space.
I proceeded to explain each and every detail of the kitchen to her while Mr. Fremont constantly flattered me for coming up with such a beautiful door style. Mrs. Fremont stayed focused and expressionless as I went over each design or plan. We covered details over and over and over, and at times, I was sure that she was not at all satisfied with what I had come up with.
After we had gone over almost everything, Mr. Fremont was ecstatic, but Mrs. Fremont remained noncommittal. To finish my presentation, I had developed a homemade beeswax finish to cover the sassafras and applewood cabinet front that would enhance the beauty of both woods. That’s when I said, “I’ll finish the kitchen doors and drawer fronts with Mrs. Fremont’s Special Beeswax Formula.” Mrs. Fremont started to laugh. She kept on laughing as we signed the agreement and as they walked me to the door.
Since then, the Fremonts have become among my best customers and dearest friends. I’ve built cabinets, shelving, or other odds and ends in every room of their home.
Drawing by: Jackie Rogers