Monday, March 21, 2016

From the Archives: A Coffee Table? No, that's a Casket!

Woodworker gives caskets two lives

Woodworker Chuck Lakin makes caskets that double as furniture, before their final use

OCTOBER 26, 2011

If you happen to visit Gini Landry’s home in Waterville, Maine, you’ll meet a vivacious, almost-octogenarian with an acute wit and a decades-long dedication to quilting.
And if you’re curious, she’ll show you some of her needle-and-thread creations, 20 or 30 of them, folded up and displayed in a roughly 5-foot-tall rack in her guest bedroom.
And if you’re even more curious, she’ll point out that that very case has a double purpose: When the final hour comes, it will convert into her coffin.
I’m 4-foot-11-inches tall, and shrinking,’’ the 79-year-old said with a wry grin. “It’s made to fit me.’’
That’s right: Every day, Landry is confronted, quite explicitly, with her own mortality, with a custom-made coffin now serving as a quilt rack and situated conveniently in her home for that fateful day that comes for all of us.
Coffins don’t have to be lined with velvet and propped open vacantly and ominously on funeral parlor sales floors - they can have life before death, at least when crafted by Waterville-based woodworker Chuck Lakin.
The 65-year-old builds simple wood caskets for the not-quite-dearly departed that easily modify into bookcases, entertainment centers, storage chests, wine racks, even coffee tables.
“I don’t think coffins have to be serious, formal things,’’ said Lakin, a retired Colby College librarian.
His morbidly multipurpose creations (, starting at a base price of $800 to $900, arose out of his dedication to home funerals, a growing movement in which family members prepare a loved one’s body for burial, rather than having the process handled by a funeral parlor.
Having a coffin available simplifies that process, and also, in a time of grieving, makes decisions easier for the family.
And in the meantime, why not build them so they have multiple uses?
So far, Lakin’s built about 40, typically for friends, but also for Hospice and the Jewish Funeral Home in Portland, Maine.
With hinged sections that fold into each other, shelves that create interlocking lids, or sectional “quick coffin’’ varieties, each pine box can be customized, with those who will (eventually) eternally sleep in them required to lie down and measure their width and height. Lakin also does personalized carvings and engravings, and, upon request, builds the boxes out of different types of wood, such as poplar or walnut.
Seem macabre? If so, it’s only because our culture is so avoidant of death, says Lakin, who describes home burials as personal, moving, meaningful, and spiritual.
“There are people who don’t want to talk about death, or even consider that they’re going to die,’’ agreed Landry, a retired psychiatric nurse. “But death is a natural part of living.’’
She paused and mused, “it may be the best part.’’
In her case, once she “got past the 75 mark,’’ she started to think about her last wishes. She recoiled from the thought of a conventional casket and an elaborate funeral. She prefers her easy quilt-rack-turned-pine-box, in which she intends to be cremated, followed by a simple church service, and finally a burial at a local cemetery.
Still, though she has her final resting place quite handy, she’s certainly in no rush to use it. “I’m trying to stay out of that box,’’ she said with a chuckle.

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