"I just like to play," said George Blevins, a retired dentist who carves wood and inlays tables instead of teeth in his comfortable McLean home. The affable Eastern Shore native says he has been building furniture "since we had a house to put it in." His hobby led to the design of his custom-built home, which houses a first-floor workshop.
There he creates work that goes far beyond the "How nice, dear!" brand of home construction. His pieces, with their intricate carving, elaborately curved veneers or stylized inlay work, look like antiques, although they are original designs.
They often hold surprises that would make a Thomas Jefferson cheer: One wooden mantelpiece conceals a small movie screen; a wood-and-glass breakfront cabinet hides a small desk; a stereo speaker next to his favorite chair holds a pull-out shelf for a drink.
The self-effacing dentist explained the impetus behind all these creations: "The wife will tell me she needs something and I'll look through one of these magazines, or the Sloane's catalog, to get an idea."
That certainly explains their dining room table, a reproduction of a Hepplewhite banquet table Blevins assembled while "I was visiting my family in Minnesota with our children one month," said his wife Zalera Blevins. "Of course, he was still working full time at that point."
The rosewood table, inlaid in boxwood, comes in three sections, each with a hinged tabletop. Six chairs go with it, for which Zalera Blevins made needlepoint covers.
Blevins attributes the speed of his work to impatience. "I have to rush to get through a piece before I get tired of it," he admitted.
The Blevins household is also replete with homemade clocks, each purposely set for a slightly different time so that they don't all clang at once. The bonging and chiming clocks play little tunes from room to room. Blevins makes both floor and mantelpiece models, designed with classical motifs that include Corinthian columns, flowers and ears of corn--but no cherubs. They're the sort of rococo clocks you wish your grandfather had had the imagination to own.
"I like clocks," Blevins explains, with a smile that never leaves his face.
He also likes short explanations. The reason he gives for making all this furniture: "I like wood." Could he be more specific? "I like walnut. It's a nice wood. That clock over there is walnut." But his banquet table is rosewood, and his ball-and-claw lowboy is mahogany, right? "They're nice woods too," he says cheerfully. "I collect wood."
It's not his love of wood alone that makes him enjoy carving, he says, nor the fact that for 30 years he carved away at patients' teeth. His explanation: "I like tools."
It's true: His entire downstairs is filled with lathes and bench saws and radial saws and routers with hundreds of different bits, plus rooms full of electronic equipment and machines for casting metal.
For Blevins also builds computers and stereo equipment and photographic equipment, not to mention the "four or five" telescopes he has made, casting each part himself ("I like telescopes"). One telescope has its own window in the hobbyist's home, with a tiny deck on which he can roll out the stargazer.
The whole house, in fact, is a monument to home hobbies, built for the creation and display of the dentist's various passions. Blevins never sells his work ("After 100 hours of work on a piece, I couldn't afford to charge") and he never seems to run out of "things to play with," as he puts it.
This, he says with that funny smile, is due to the dullness of his life. "I don't play around a lot. I don't go to any of those bad places downtown," he said, ignoring signals from his wife. "I just go downstairs and play. I like to play."