porches. Porches are about ease and conversation. The hurry, hurry
world evaporates on front porches. I sat down with Kevin Walker
on his front porch and we talked and talked. He’s a great
storyteller. It’s more than his easy molasses thick drawl
and warm manner, it’s that he has something to say and savors
the joy found in engaging conversation. He’s also a voracious
reader although he says he read very little in his youth.
His family goes back generations in Tennessee. He was born in Delaware,
where his father, a high school teacher and a minister, had taken
a high paying job thinking money was the answer. It wasn’t,
and soon family roots and a simple life prevailed over the dollar.
They moved back home to Nashville, Tennessee. There is a fierce
sense of pride and heritage in southerners that is admirable.
From a very early age Kevin was drawn to architecture, the structure
and design of old buildings, the darkness of Victorian homes, heavy
rugs and draperies and itchy camel back sofas. He would occasionally
accompany his father in paying respects at wakes and funerals. Kevin
recalls standing, knee high next to his father, before a coffin
in a parlor. Not being tall enough to see over the top, he fixed
his gaze on the casket’s French Polished mahogany wood. The
high gloss finish and deep wood grain captivated him.
At 13, he bought a heavily varnished Chiffarobe from a neighbor
for $8. He put it in his bedroom and using a butter knife began
scraping off the old varnish. It took him all winter to reveal the
magical beauty of quarter sawn oak.
Experimenting with refinishing wood and furniture, Kevin learned
he liked “dealing with things that take a specific kind of
work.” Ironically it was New York City classical furniture
made between 1790 and 1840 with stenciling or gold leaf that attracted
The stenciling, as he does it today, was originally done not by
painting over the stencil but by applying powder to it, blowing
away the access then hand painting the design. With gold leaf, once
applied, he uses a pen and ink and shades in the detail to emulate
bronze. “I’m not really an artist,” Kevin insists,
but he is modest. The work is exquisite; he is one of only two or
three people in the country who do this kind of work.
In college the Dean called him to his office. The Dean pointed to
a dilapidated secretary in the corner of his office, “I have
a feeling you can repair that for me.” Kevin did, and realized
his inherent passion for restoration. “Part of the Tennessee
spirit is in fixin’ things,” he tells me.
Soon after, the Dean, who Kevin refers to as ‘Doc’,
invited him to his house for dinner. The house was filled with beautiful
old furniture. “I was sittin’ in high cotton,”
Kevin grins, knowing one day he wanted a home filled with this sort
Doc, who remains a mentor in Kevin’s life, told him he had
a barn full of furniture, “You take it and pay me when you
have the money.” Kevin restored and eventually sold it. “I
knew I had the bug,” he says.
“What’s the importance of a mentor?” I ask.
“Everything! They encouraged me to do 10% more than I thought
I was capable of. When you have only 60 or 70 years, you need help.”
He believes young people need mentors, not only to give them a sense
of how to accomplish a task, but to guide them away from bad habits.
“Good mentorship is someone wise enough to give direction
without you ever knowing it, one who guides you along without you
knowing ya have a rope on ya.”
Kevin worked 2 years restoring the furniture in the Tennessee State
Capitol, designed by William Strickland, then turned solely to buying
and selling antiques. He ran an antique shop in Nashville for 17
years, but wasn’t happy. “I made a lot of money selling
antiques, but discovered that money brought too many headaches.
All I really wanted to do was restore furniture.” It was at
that precise moment his wife Gail came into his life, “through
her I discovered the importance of real things in life, of simplicity.”
They moved out of Nashville to a small town, Pulaski, Tennessee.
“I was lookin’ for Mayberry, I guess,” he jokes.
Five years ago Kevin and Gail packed up and moved to Hudson, “the
area reminded us of middle Tennessee, we fell in love with the architecture.”
They live a happy, simple life here. Kevin restores furniture from
the period that inspires him, “do what you love and the money
“What is your dream?”
“Life, relationships with good people, simple food with friends
and continuing to learn. If one day I could say I was a mentor that
would be nice. There is a lot of satisfaction in giving to others.”
As I step off the porch he says, “If ya truly want to be Tennessee
ya gotta sauner.”
“Sauner? Yeah, fits better without the T.”
We’ll talk next time From The Road.