Ramon breathes life into antiques

ABOUTTOWNACROSS-1Vintage piece, antique, family heirloom –– whatever you want to call it! Some household items –– especially furniture –– often outstrip their monetary worth with their sentimental value.

The rocking chair that has rocked three generations of a family to sleep as babies; the chaise lounge Granny used to relax in after a satisfying lunch. We often leave those items to rot and crumble, not wanting to part with them but unsure how to restore them.  But there’s an unassuming young man who, for those who treasure the craftsmanship of a bygone age, is keeping those cherished memories alive through the restoration of antique Barbadian furniture.

As the owner of a beloved set of crumbling Morris chairs, bumping into Ramon Corbin of Demitris Woodworking on a stroll About Town this week was a godsend.

Standing a lanky six feet, three with large but shy and beguiling eyes, Ramon Corbin’s navel string is buried in Hart’s Gap, Christ Church, and during most of his school-age  years he lived in Durants, Christ Church.

Like many young men at secondary school at the time, he took woodwork right up to third form, after which it was no longer an option in preparation for his CXCs. That mattered little to the teenager who already felt working with his hands was not just a subject to be studied or an exam to pass. For him it was a calling; a gift that kept his hardworking fingers ever fiddling with this and tinkering with that.

But as fate would have it, Ramon’s domestic and family structure fed the need to fiddle in the person of his grandfather Neville Corbin. As he ascended to the upper school where woodwork was not an option for his form, Ramon shadowed his grandfather for most of his teenaged years, which was this self-taught tradesman’s apprenticeship.

“My grandfather used to do woodwork –– I guess like what I do now –– as a hobby . . . . So just always being down there [in his grandfather’s workshop] seeing him do stuff and helping out, for me that’s where all my knowledge came from.”

In fact, the mild-mannered humble 39-year-old, with perpetually tanned skin, admits that this fascination for woodwork kept him out of trouble as he grew from boy to adolescent, and into a responsible working man.

“It preoccupies you with other things, and you don’t have time to think about doing foolishness. For me, I need to be able to see the design of something; how I’m gonna put it together; how I will do the joints; how each cut is going to be; how the grain of the wood is going to run.

“Because if I can’t do that in my head, I can’t produce the piece. So to do that, for me, I take a lot of time to go through it in fine, fine detail,” Ramon explained.

Let the beauty of the finished woodwork speak for itself and make sure it is restored or built to last. That is
Ramon’s motto.

“A lot of people are into the fancy, and things that look good; and that’s about it. But, for me, if you have something that looks good [it should also] be able to last. It needs to be manufactured for me in a particular way.

“There was a reason why dovetail joints and pintail joints and those different types of joints were used in the construction of woodworking and furniture before. Because they were built to last,” he stated emphatically.

Now, skilled hands and a passion for breathing life into a stump of wood, or patiently loving a 60-year-old chair back to its former glory is one thing. Looking after one’s responsibilities is quite another.

“And by the time school was over, it was time for Ramon to join the family business at Corlec Forwarding & Freighting –– a moving company with a great reputation for packing you up and moving you out, and taking the headache out of the process.  Whether it was moving from Bawdens, St Andrew, to Brittons Hill, St Michael, or from Barbados to Brunei, the company’s service record was evidenced in the thought sometimes of if Ramon had time to do anything else but breathe!

So now he had a day job and all the responsibilities that come with it.

By 1997 those responsibilities increased with the birth
of his first son Isaiah Dean; followed soon by daughter Selena Bascombe in 1999, and Josiha Corbin a year later.

Needless to say, family means everything to Ramon; but having his quiver full of arrows has done nothing to dampen his passion for using his gifted hands to their full potential.  He admits that while time does not allow, he often chances upon a piece of broken furniture or perhaps just a block of mahogany, and his mind instinctively starts to plan how the piece would come together.

Even for furniture not badly damaged and just in need of a bit of sprucing up, the process is the same: strip it down to basic and start again. 
Even for furniture not badly damaged and just in need of a bit of sprucing up, the process is the same: strip it down to basic and start again.
This hutch has been in the client’s family for three generations and Ramon says she was moved to tears when the finished product was revealed. 
This hutch has been in the client’s family for three generations and Ramon says she was moved to tears when the finished product was revealed. 
Dimetris Woodworking specializes in French polish, which is both hard to come by and expensive. But for some clients is worth every penny. 
Dimetris Woodworking specializes in French polish, which is both hard to come by and expensive. But for some clients is worth every penny.

One can only think Ramon’s woodworking was meant to be when after spending his teenaged years as an unofficial apprentice to his grandfather Neville, an international client in Corlec Forwarding Inc. would provide yet another avenue for hands-on learning.

Scott King ran an internationally recognized woodwork and joinery company, specializing in microjoinery –– dealing with small jewellery boxes and the like. Scott even ran conventions on the latest in joinery techniques, which attracted artisans from all over the world.

So he and Ramon got to talking –– affable chap that he is –– and for the two years Scott lived in Barbados, Ramon was able to pick his brain, further improve his hands-on knowledge and broaden his skillset. For Ramon, this was one of the few occasions when the “day job” complemented his passion for classic woodworking.

With high quality work came increased clientele from all walks of life: wealthy expatriate homeowners, who wanted a fully antique décor in the mansion they would spend the summer months in, to the last surviving sibling in a family who wanted one particular chair restored in memory of a mother who had passed away.

The only difficulty has been bridging the gap between what the client wants, how much the client understands about the process and, of course, what the client can afford to pay. “From the elite back down to the average person. Sometimes it can be difficult [when]  people don’t have a knowledgeable background of the craft. [But] 90 per cent of the restoration has been because
of sentimental value,” Ramon says.

It is not only the clientele that is elite. Ramon has chosen the French polish finish for his products, which is arguably the best method for wooden antique restoration. His passion and research have led him to India where a tiny insect deep in the forest provides the raw materials for the finished product.

Lac is the name given to the resinous secretion of the tiny lac insect (Laccifer lacca) which is parasitic on certain trees in Asia, particularly India and Thailand. This insect secretion is cultivated and refined because of the commercial value of the finished product known as shellac. The term shellac is derived from
shell-lac (the word for the refined lac in flake form), but has come to refer to all refined lac whether in dry or suspended
in an alcohol-based solvent.

In all stories where a local boy has come up in the world and done well for himself, so to speak, there must be a lady love. Right? Well, Ramon has got that too. Over the years of learning how to sand with or against the grain, and creating pieces of work he hoped would outlive him, he met and began courting Tonya.

She is a jovial, yet no-nonsense woman with a ready smile who loves her husband and family at full volume. They were married in 2012 by which time their son Joshua was seven years old. Ramon admits this was a light bulb moment for him.

And, despite his packed work schedule, family time is his number one priority.

“From the time I come home it is all them. Family is extremely important. Joinery is a dying art and it is something I want to pass on to my son.

“Woodworking is my calling, not the nine-to-five; and sometimes I feel hemmed in and not living up to my full potential.”

But with a family who desperately wants him to promote his work more robustly, I’m sure that potential will be reached in no time.

So the next time you’re on Whitepark Road and you take a glance next to Trident Wines, remember that within one of those bonds a little bit of magic happens when Ramon Corbin of Demitris Woodworking tends to a broken chest of drawers, or dreams up the design for an antique caned bottom mahogany chair in much the same way that breath brings new life into the world.

Isn’t it funny what happens on a stroll About Town?

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