The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/1999-08-13/522537/

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, August 13, 1999, Columns

Return to the days of fine craftsmanship at Texas Country Designs. photograph by Gerald E. McLeod

Return to the days of fine craftsmanship at Texas Country Designs.
photograph by Gerald E. McLeod

Joe Covert builds Texas legends. In his Kerrville shop he creates custom furniture made in early Texas-German style. Each piece has the same craftsmanship that defined the work of skilled laborers more than a century and a half ago. Pegs and dovetail joints are used instead of staples and glue.

"Early Texas furniture had a lot of nice, simple lines," Covert says, "nice curves, but not real ornate." In the Texas frontier homes, functionality often won out over elaborate decorations. One of Covert's creations is a bench that looks like a log with legs that might have been used on the front porch of a log cabin.

Covert's journey to becoming a furniture builder followed a circuitous route back to his hometown. He returned to his boyhood home on the western edge of town to open Texas Country Designs. After graduating from Texas Tech University in Lubbock with a degree in painting and drawing, he had jobs doing illustration, graphic arts, and sales. He became a full-time carpenter about six years ago.

The first four years of his latest career were spent in a shop on a farm outside of Seguin. "The road was so rough I never let my customers come out," he says. His return to Kerrville gives him the space to open a showroom on the property that his father once owned. His brother still operates the sheet metal shop his father owned.

"What got me started was a small table and stools that my dad had," Covert says. He still has the antique children's table with two stools that slide into a slot under the top. Covert makes a copy of the table that incorporates some improvements into the design, like wider seats on the stools. The same kind of pegs and joints hold the tables together. "It'll last 150 years like the original," he says.

Almost all of Covert's creations are made of the woods that were popular with early Texas craftsmen. In the 1800s, walnut, pecan, cypress, and long leaf pine were widely available. Most of the walnut that once grew east of Austin has been harvested and is now imported from out of state. Because it is a slow-growing tree, new long leaf pine boards are rare. Most of the once-plentiful old-growth wood comes from old buildings that are being demolished.

The long leaf pine board has a very pretty grain that is much closer together than the softer pine sold at local lumberyards. Covert has several large timbers that were salvaged from one building and used in another before finding their way to his shop, where they will be milled into smaller pieces for cabinets and tables. The planks still have the markings of the hand tools that shaped the log, cut the dovetail joint, and drilled the holes for the pegs. Even though the wood is more than a century old, when he works with pine, the scent fills the shop with its strong fragrance, Covert says.

Pecan is Covert's favorite wood to work with, but it is very hard and heavy. He says one customer wanted a 4'x10' table top made of pecan. Although pecan takes a polish nicely, the top alone would have weighed more than 300 pounds. Covert talked the woman into a smaller design, and it was still very heavy.

Many of Covert's customers bring him pictures of furniture they would like him to replicate and an occasional restoration project. "Original Texas furniture is very hard to find," Covert says. Buying an original would be more expensive than having a new piece built to look old. A recent customer was an antique collector who wanted two tables to match furniture built by German craftsmen.

Furniture craftsmen thrived in Texas for a relatively short period of time. When settlers came to the frontier, very little furniture was brought with them. New Braunfels and Chappell Hill were centers for craftsmen from about 1840 to the late 1860s. After the Civil War, factories on the East Coast began making furniture that was easy to assemble, and they sold it out of local furniture stores. The craftsmen soon moved on to other professions, Covert says.

In the back of his shop, Covert is building a settee from a design that was popular in the Chappell Hill area. The smooth curves of the wooden arms look almost Grecian. The design is timeless not because it is so unique, "but because it has lines that work," he says.

Besides building headboards, chests of drawers, cabinets, and tables, Covert is working on furniture-quality kitchen cabinets. Unfortunately, most of Covert's showroom is in a photo album. All of his work is on commission. "It's not my intent," he says, "orders just seem to pile up." He's hired a couple of guys to help him meet the demand.

You might have to wait for furniture from Texas Country Designs, but the handcraftsmanship will last through generations. Friendly and knowledgeable, Covert loves to talk about wood and design and to show his photo album. The shop on Harper Road a mile south of I-10 at exit 505 west of Kerrville is officially open 8am to 6pm Monday through Saturday. Give him a call anytime at 830/895-1775 or 888/306-6695.


Coming up this weekend ...

Seguin Birthday Celebration commemorates 161 years with food, entertainment, and an auction at the Conservation Society Complex, Aug. 14. 830/379-6382.

Ice Cream Smorgasbord in Brenham centers around kids' activities and all the Blue Bell you can eat, Aug. 15. 409/836-3695.

Prazka Pout and Praha Feast in Flatonia celebrates the area's Czech heritage with food and music, Aug. 15. 512/865-3560.


Coming up ...

Sky Watch Primer at Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, 805 N Capital of Texas Highway, offers an introduction to the basics of astronomy in three easy lessons beginning Aug. 24 for $51.
For reservations call 327-7622 or e-mail hike@wildbasin.org.

Trolly Tours of historic San Marcos leave Tanger Outlet Center on the first Saturday of each month. One lucky rider wins a $25 gift certificate to the mall. Reservations at 512/396-3739.


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