Justin de Gast, Cabinetmaker

Creating a good reputation was easy for cabinetmaker Justin de Gast. "There are a couple of parts to the recipe," he explains. "They are scheduling, timing, being punctual for the customer, and also good quality. I think if you have those elements, there is priceless value in that."

Achieving that goal was easy for Justin because he enjoys his work and does not over-extend himself. He does no advertising, not even in the yellow pages. "Once you make a customer happy and they tell their friends about what a nice job they have, it goes a long way," he says. "That's how I rely on getting my next job---for that person to hoot and hooray. And that's how I sleep at night."

Justin was born and raised in Annapolis, "in '62, right here on Franklin Street," he says. His parents and grandparents came from Holland after the war and his father went to work for photographer Marion E. Warren in the early 1960s. The family lived in the historic district for 20 years. "Main Street and Spa Creek were my playgrounds," Justin recalls. "It was really a great place to grow up. I've seen a lot of changes in Annapolis. That has been interesting."

Justin became aware of his talents in school and took an art course and an industrial arts course every semester during junior high and high school. "I probably had 10 or 12 different woodworking courses," he says. "It was good experience."

During summer vacations, Justin would help his father renovate homes on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. After high school, he was excited to go to work and make money doing something he loved. He worked as a carpenter for some "very good" local contractors for several years. Just about the time he was becoming tired of working outside in the elements, plodding through muddy construction sites, he got a call from a cabinetmaker in Davidsonville who needed help. Justin kept that job for seven years and learned many cabinetmaking techniques.

When the economy was a little shaky in the '80s, Justin was laid off. "To some degree, it was a blessing," he says, "because it got me working on my own. I went to work for a dear friend who has a contracting service here in Annapolis. He treated me well and allowed me to save some money and, in my spare time, I created a space for my own business. I kind of phased into it."

Justin has been on his own for 11 years, doing various aspects of cabinetmaking. "My forté is case work," he says, "book cases, libraries and entertainment centers. That stems from a lot of these old homes that weren't built with closets. I think our lives have changed. They didn't have TVs back then. We need space for our materialistic possessions." Justin sees his task as creating a way to organize the "stuff," display it neatly and still retain a historic flavor in the design.

Fifty percent of the furniture in Justin's home was fabricated with his own hands. "It's a great feeling to be able to create a useful piece of furniture for yourself," he says. Other creations include: pantries, urns, curio cabinets, computer desks, bathroom vanities, wine racks and, especially interesting, fireplace mantles.

In the process of renovating much of her house, Carol Burke of Annapolis wanted to do the fireplace over by covering the painted brick facade with woodwork and adding a mantle. When she explained what she wanted to her contractor, he replied, "I can't do that. You'll have to call Justin." Carol did just that and was extremely pleased with the results and with Justin. "He is an unbelievable craftsman," she says, "extremely meticulous and very thoughtful. He knew from a technical point of view what ideas would work and what would not."

Justin will be doing some more odds and ends projects for the Burkes, the next being a kitchen island. Carol explains, "He will be adding granite counter tops and columns at the end of the island, recreating and restructuring the surface to create a new design. He will take some of the same features on the fireplace and put them on the adjacent half-walls to tie the whole thing together."

Justin does 95 percent of his installations but he does not do the finishing. "I don't have the dust-free atmosphere for that," he says. "I have great avenues of referrals for finishing."

Working for and by himself is a plus for Justin. "It's very simple. That's what keeps me happy," he says. "I love what I do...and that makes the business part easy."

Justin enjoys having his wife and two children, ages 7 and 9, nearby. "They're most important on my list, and what's been really great is that, while they were young, I was here at the house and could go in for lunch and see them and watch them grow."

The family enjoys traveling together, and they take a lot of day trips. They also have a love for New England and own a place on the coast of Maine where they camp for several weeks during the summer. "It's low budget, no running water, no power," says Justin. "It's been great to let the kids realize that sometimes you can't just turn the faucet on and we don't fool around with a television. The idea is to get away from it."

Looking to the future, Justin would like to continue to build up his clientele and possibly bring his son in to help with the business after school. "Or maybe my daughter, or my wife," he says. "As long as we are enjoying it and bringing home the bacon, we'll continue to do so."


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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